Introducing the new Penntek TR-45L

If you’re a fan of the Penntek TR-35 or its predecessor, the TR-25, I’ve got some good news for you.

John (WA3RNC) announced this morning that he is now taking orders for his latest design: the long-awaited TR-45 Lite (TR-45L).

I’ve been helping John Beta test this radio since mid-August. I’ve activated a number of parks with it and have used it almost exclusively from home.

In short? I really love it.

Here’s the announcement John (WA3RNC) has posted on his website along with a form to fill out if you’re interested in purchasing from the first run. John notes:

The TR-45L 50-unit pilot run construction is now underway! These first units will be factory wired, tested, and aligned. These units will be available for shipment over the next several weeks. The plan is to have kits available in about 6 to 8 weeks. The kit price is expected to be $430.00. Please understand that this will not be a kit for beginners…

Pricing has been set at $580.00 for wired and tested pilot run units, with an additional charge of $22.00 for USPS Priority Mail shipping. There are two available options: The first is an internal 5200 MAH Li-Ion battery pack and charger with a price of $80.00, and the second is an internal Z-Match antenna tuner for easy matching in the field to simple wire antennas. The Z-Match tuner option is priced at $60.00. Note that the Z-Match ATU can be added later but will require that you drill some rather precise holes in the back case housing and a do a bit of soldering. [Continue reading…]

This radio is pricier than the TR-35, of course, but I would argue it’s very well worth the money: the receiver and audio are superb. The radio has a fun factor that’s hard to describe.

I’ve just updated the radio with the latest firmware and will be taking it on an activation this morning (Monday, Sep 26, 2022). Check the POTA spots page for me.

I’ll make a video including a full tour of the radio, then perform the activation.  If the hotspot bandwidth gods are on my side, I may have this posted later today or early tomorrow.

Note that John (AE5X) has also been testing the TR-45L and will also have updates and videos.

The upshot?

If the TR-45L looks like the sort of radio you’d enjoy taking to the field, just go ahead and get one.  I think it’s brilliant.

I suspect his first production run will sell out in very short order.

It’s a simple radio with simple–almost Apollo era inspired–controls. The audio is gorgeous and I’m pleased with the filtering options. The internal battery option will power it for ages and the Z-match tuner options works beautifully.

Again, if you want to hear it on the air, check the POTA spots for me sometime between 16:00-18:00 today!

Stay tuned!

Biplanes, Canoes, Callsigns, and POTA: Looking back on our summer in Canada and final field report from Québec

Our travels in Canada this summer exceeded our expectations.

Looking back

Les Escoumins, Québec (click to enlarge)

If you’ve been following my Canada POTA activations and field reports, you’ll get an idea where we traveled and a small sampling of the many amazing parks Canada has to offer.

We started off our trip in Ottawa where we spent four days.

Only moments after arriving at our hotel that first day, Vince (VE6LK) made time in his schedule to administer my Canadian Basic exam remotely. That evening–despite being a bit bleary eyed after a fairly long day of driving–I passed my Basic with Honours. (I’m still chuffed about that!)

By the next morning, I already had the callsign I requested: VY2SW. My mailing address in Canada is in Prince Edward Island hence the VY2 call. Since essentially every new call in Canada is a vanity call, I chose the suffix SW to reflect my US call. PEI is one of the few provinces where as a Basic license holder you can request a 2×2 call.

My first activation in Canada was at Hog’s Back Conservation Reserve.  I had the good fortune of meeting up with Andrew, one of my subscribers, at the park. It was great getting to know him–what a nice fellow–and to start off a series of activations in Canada on the right foot.

St-Anne River in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges

After leaving Ottawa, we made our way to Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Québec where we’d reserved a condo/townhome for 6 weeks. That served as our home base as we traveled around Québec City, Saguenay, the Charlevoix region, and the North Shore of the St-Lawrence.

At our local farmer’s market in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, I especially loved the VW campervan bookstore.

I noted in many field reports how surprised I was to discover that a number of popular parks were still ATNOs (All-Time New Ones) in the POTA network. Then again, POTA hasn’t been in Canada as long as other similar programs like WWFF and SOTA.

Many of the POTA activations I made in Canada were in urban parks–especially the ones in/around Québec City. These activations took me outside of my comfort zone; I’m used to activating state and national parks back home that are expansive and largely in rural areas.

Continue reading Biplanes, Canoes, Callsigns, and POTA: Looking back on our summer in Canada and final field report from Québec

Sam builds a compact external speaker and 200 Hz filter for the Penntek TR-35

Many thanks to Sam (WN5C) for sharing the following guest post:


A Compact CW Filter and Speaker Build for the TR-35

by Sam Duwe, WN5C

I recently built a Penntek TR-35 and, like seemingly everyone, I love it.

Once the rig passed the smoke test I was having too much fun and wasn’t quite ready to put away the soldering station. I had two non-essential wants for this project: a narrower CW filter for listening comfort, and an external speaker. Here’s a quick description of how I crammed both of those into an Altoids tin. Nothing is new or groundbreaking here, but it has been a fun and useful project for me and hopefully will give some inspiration for others.

The Hi-Per-Mite

The heart of the project is a Hi-Per-Mite 200 Hz CW filter, designed by David Cripe NM0S, and sold as a nice kit for $28 by Four State QRP Group. Hans Summers G0UPL uses the circuit in the QCX so many will be familiar with the filter’s sound. It’s nice and narrow with no ringing, and makes using my base station (a Kenwood TS-520 with the 500 Hz crystal filter) a joy.

To be clear, the existing narrow filter in the TR-35 is great, but I like the option of going narrow(er). It’s a Pixie-level build difficulty so it should come together in an easy couple of hours. I originally built mine in an Altoids tin using inspiration from Phillip Cala-Lazar K9PL’s review and it worked very well. It sips current and is powered by a 9-volt battery. With a DPDT throw switch connected to both the audio path and the power you can easily switch the filter on and off.

The Speaker

A neat aspect of the TR-35 is that there is a lot of audio gain so you can drive a non-amplified speaker. I have a little Bluetooth speaker that does this trick when I want to use CW to annoy people, but I figured if I’m already hauling an Altoids tin to the field maybe I could get it to talk, too. I looked around my junk box and found a broken Baofeng speaker mic and salvaged the speaker. It works really well: a robust but comfortable volume.

I’m sure any little speaker would do the trick… nothing fancy here, it gets hot glued it to the lid of a mint tin after all.

The Build

After I built the Hi-Per-Mite here’s what I did: first I ate a tin of Altoids and felt a little sick. Then I drilled some holes. The one on the left is for the audio input, the one on the bottom for the headphones (both of these are 1/8” stereo jacks), and two on the right for two mini DPDT switches. I also drilled holes in the lid for the speaker sound to come through. I gave the tin a good sanding and tried to remove sharp edges, and then sprayed the lot with black primer and spray paint.

Continue reading Sam builds a compact external speaker and 200 Hz filter for the Penntek TR-35

Activating Plaines d’Abraham in Old Québec with the KX2 and AX1 combo

When we spend the summer in the province of Québec, we always set aside at least one day to hang out in Old Québec. This portion of the city of Québec is simply stunning: it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and the birthplace of French North America.

No other place in North America reminds me more of the years we lived in Europe than Old Québec.

We’ve been to Old Québec a countless number of times over the past two decades; we enjoy checking out the architecture, the window boxes full of flowers, and the numerous museums.

Old Québec is, of course, quite touristy–especially if you visit on a weekend. It can be incredibly busy and also challenging to find parking especially if, like us, you have a cargo box on top of your car (many parking decks have strict height restrictions).

On Tuesday, July 26, 2022, we decided to make a trip into Old Québec to visit some of our favorite book shops, small businesses, enjoy a lunch together, and soak in some of the amazing weather.

My wife encouraged me to find a nice POTA site and–wow–is one spoiled for choice! There are no fewer than 10 POTA parks in/around Old Québec. Check out the POTA map–each yellow dot is a park:

I know Québec City well enough to know that some of these parks wouldn’t be terribly easy to activate since they’re historic buildings and sites–I think it could be done, but you might need to seek permission in advance. I think it would be incredibly fun to set up a multi-park rove on foot; in fact, I’ve put that on my bucket list for a future trip!

The park I was eager to activate is the largest in central Québec City: The Plains of Abraham. It’s a beautiful and open urban park that overlooks the the St-Lawrence river. It’s Québec City’s version of Central Park.

Plaines d’Abraham (VE-1019)

I was very fortunate: after we dodged a little road construction, I found parallel parking on Ave Winfred-Laurier next to the Parc Jeanne d’Arc.

Continue reading Activating Plaines d’Abraham in Old Québec with the KX2 and AX1 combo

Fold-out feet for the Penntek TR-35

I must thank my buddy John (AE5X) for this excellent tip.

I was watching one of his YouTube videos some time ago and noticed that he added fold-out feet to his Penntek TR-35.

Like John, I appreciate my radios sitting at a bit of an angle as I operate and these fold-out feet looked like the perfect addition to my TR-35.

These feet are designed for laptops which are much heavier than the TR-35 or pretty much any similar field radio.

They arrive in a small package with an alcohol wipe to clean the bottom of the radio. The adhesive pads on the feet are made by 3M and high quality. I doubt they’ll ever fail. Since they’re designed to allow airflow under a hot laptop, I believe the adhesive should withstand hot summer days in the field as well.

Continue reading Fold-out feet for the Penntek TR-35

Jonathan reviews the EGV+ QRP CW transceiver kit

Many thanks to Jonathan (KN6LFB) who shares the following guest review:


A review of the EGV+ QRP Transceiver Kit

by Jonathan (KN6LFB)

Introduction

The EGV+ is a QRP CW-only transceiver that covers the 40-, 30-, and 20-meter HAM bands.  Designed by Javier Solans, EA3GCY, it is sold in kit form from his website, qrphamradiokits.com.

Javier designed the EGV+ in honor of his friend and co-founder of the EA-QRP Club, Miguel Montilla, EA3EGV.  The first page of the instruction manual dedicates the radio to Miguel with this tribute:

This EGV+ transceiver is probably the kit that I have produced with more care and illusion in my life.  It is a great honor to name this kit “EGV”, the callsign suffix of the late Miguel Montilla, EA3EGV (SK). With no doubt, this is the kind of kit he liked most.  It was my privilege to establish and share with him the first years of the EA-QRP Club. He has always been a referent in my life; when I remember those wonderful years his humbleness, work capacity and generosity are the virtues which shine his image.

How lucky I was to be able to share the path with you, Miguel. Thanks! 

Javier Solans, ea3gcy 

Specifications

  • Frequency Coverage: 40m, 30m, 20m
  • Modes: CW
  • Power Requirements: 12–14VDC, 1–2A transmit, 0.14–0.25A receive. 

Transmitter:

  • RF Output: 5W @ 13.8V
  • Harmonics Output: -45dBc or better below fundamental
  • Other Spurious Signals: -50dBc or better
  • T/R Switching: Relays

Receiver:

  • Type: Superheterodyne.  Balanced mixers.
  • Sensitivity: 0.2uV minimum discernable signal.
  • Selectivity: 3-pole crystal ladder filter, 700Hz nominal bandwidth
  • IF: 4.915MHz
  • AGC: acts on the receive path according to the received audio.
  • Audio Output: 250mW, 4-8 ohms.

Ordering

I purchased my EGV+ kit with the optional enclosure from qrphamradiokits.com.  Javier requests that US customers email him using the contact form on his website for the current pricing in USD prior to ordering.  At the time of my order (February 2022), the cost with the optional enclosure was $203.37.

Assembly

The EGV+ is a single large (180x140mm) PCB, with separate modules for the OLED display, processor, and Si-5351 frequency generator.  All components are through-hole and placed on the top of the PCB.  The kit arrived well packaged and well organized.  There were no missing or mislabeled parts in my kit, which is impressive considering the high number of components.  There are 53 100nF capacitors alone!

The manual contains detailed lists of the components by value/quantity and individually.  One of my favorite features of the manual, and something I wish was more common, is a grid-based layout map of the entire PCB [see above], with the grid position called out in the list of individual components.  This greatly speeds assembly and diagnosis as you can find component positions more easily.

Continue reading Jonathan reviews the EGV+ QRP CW transceiver kit

Enticing radios in the periphery

Since my early days in the world of radio, there have been radios I found very intriguing, but have never owned. I’m sure I’m not alone in this regard.

These radios have enticed me, but not enough to pull the trigger…you know…to actually buy one.

Not yet, at least.

Here’s a small sampling of radios I currently window shop:

The Elecraft K3/K3s

There’s a reason this particular radio series has been on so many DXpeditions: it packs a lot of performance and is efficient for its size.

I’ve owned all of Elecraft’s QRP radios and I love them. I know I’d like the K3 or K3s as well.

There are a couple reasons why I haven’t purchased a K3 or K3s. First of all, I already own a KX3 with a CW roofing filter and a KXPA100 amplifier. In a sense, I feel like this is a rough equivalent of the K3. The KX3 doesn’t have all of the features or options of the K3 series, but it has everything I need as a primarily portable op. Secondly, the price of the K3 or K3s–depending on the installed options–range anywhere from $1,100 – 2,900 used. The lower priced ones tend to be QRP and lack some of the performance options.

That said, if I ever landed a super deal on a K3, there’s a decent likelihood I’d buy it.

The Yaesu FT-897D

I know what it is about the FT-897: it looks like it means business. I’ve always found the rugged design of the ‘897 appealing even though a friend jokes that it’s the ugliest radio Yaesu’s ever made. Of course, folks who buy an 897 aren’t looking at the form, they’re going for the function.

Continue reading Enticing radios in the periphery

Fickle weather during an early morning activation at Parc de la Rivière-du-Moulin, Saguenay

Each time our family spends the summer in Québec, we make time to visit the Saguenay region  which is just a couple hours north of Québec City.

We enjoy the hikes, the river walks, and other outdoor activities. It’s a beautiful part of Québec.

This year, we spent more time along the north shore of the St. Lawrence visiting Baie-Comeau and later camping and whale watching a little north of Tadoussac. We also explored more of the Charlevoix region and even parts of the Québec City area we’d never visited in the past. I really enjoyed driving some new-to-us back country roads.

A couple weeks before leaving Québec, we took a family poll and unanimously decided to squeeze in a trip to Saguenay despite our other travels.

Due to other activities we’d scheduled, we only had a window of a couple of days to make the trip. The weather didn’t look that wonderful for the drive north and, in fact, it wasn’t. We drove along a line of torrential rain that was so heavy at one point, I (along with many other drivers) pulled off the road to wait out the heaviest bit.

Otherwise, the drive was/is a beautiful one through the Jacques-Cartier  National Park on 73/175 North. Had it not been for the thunderstorms and rain, I would have taken a small detour to make at least one activation.

The first day in Saguenay was all about walking on the river, and hitting some of our favorite spots when the rain finally moved on; I didn’t attempt a park activation. I decided instead to do an early morning activation the following day (July 22, 2022).

Finding a park

You may have noticed that quite a lot of my activations in Québec have been ATNOs (All-Time New Ones). I didn’t specifically set out to activate ATNOs–in fact, they were hard to avoid because there were so many.

Not so in Saguenay!

POTA activators in Saguenay are an active bunch and they are spoiled for choice in terms of the density of parks; there are so many!

It really pleased me to see so many previous activations at the parks I researched–not only activations in the summer months, but also winter (and they have proper winters in Saguenay/Chicoutimi–!).

There were so many parks to choose from, I decided I would simply choose the one closest to our hotel and that turned out to be Parc de la Rivière-du-Moulin.

It was so close to our hotel, I could have easily walked there.

Continue reading Fickle weather during an early morning activation at Parc de la Rivière-du-Moulin, Saguenay

Brian’s Kilo at Cook Forest State Park is tied to family, memories, and his CW journey

Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following field report:


Field Report:  Reflections on a Kilo at Cook Forest State Park

by Brian (K3ES)

Contemplating my favorite antenna tower during the Kilo activation.

Cook Forest State Park in northwest Pennsylvania has always been a special place for me.  It abounds in trees (including some of the last virgin timber around), wildlife (deer, turkeys, song birds, squirrels, and the occasional bear), and also includes the scenic Clarion River.  When I found out about Parks on the Air (POTA) after getting licensed in 2020, I knew that I had to put POTA entity K-1345 on the air.

Our family cabin; which has been central to all of the phases of my life – including milestones, joys, sorrows, and unadulterated wonder – is located on a plot of land bordered on two sides by the park.  It just seemed natural and right for me to do my first-ever POTA activation under an ancient hemlock tree just a few steps over the line from the back corner of our property. That mostly-SSB activation happened in May 2021 with my TX-500 pushing 10 watts into a homebrew dipole suspended from a dead branch up 30 ft in the hemlock.

An early activation of K-1345 from beneath the ancient Eastern Hemlock Tree

Last weekend, I reached a meaningful personal goal by completing my 1000th activator contact from K-1345.  After the first activation I never again operated mostly-SSB, and I never increased radiated power.  Nearly all of my contacts since have used CW, and many were completed at 5 watts.  The added challenge of QRP CW undoubtedly made the Kilo more difficult, but it was also much more fulfilling.  It has taken me 28 successful activations, a lot of work to improve my CW skills, and a lot of patient support from the hunters who have shared this journey with me.

My activations at K-1345 tell the story of my journey as a CW operator.  I took my first steps on that journey in late 2020, months before I had a portable radio or a plan for my first activation.  I started with an Android app, V-Band, and listening to CW exchanges on webSDR.  Eventually that progressed to CW Academy basic, intermediate, and advanced classes.  The classes really upped my CW game, but what helped even more was using CW on the air.  I finally got my HF station on the air in March 2021 and started hunting parks, SSB at first, then increasingly CW.  During my first mostly-SSB activation I did manage to hunt down three park-to-park contacts using CW.  I started my second activation by calling CQ using CW, and I have not looked back.  Wow, those hunters were patient during that first first CW activation!  My skills have improved greatly since then, but I’m still not where I want to be.  The next goal for me is to gain confidence and proficiency in less-structured QSOs.

I want to thank Thomas – K4SWL, whose real time, real life activation videos challenged, motivated, and inspired me to learn and use CW.  I greatly appreciate the work of the CW Academy advisors who guided me through some of the hard work needed for improvement.  I also need to thank the hundreds of hunters who have patiently endured my developing CW skill set. Finally, my hat is off for the dedicated POTA volunteers, who continue to improve and expand this amazing activity to the benefit of radio amateurs around the world.

Completing the Kilo activation would have taken me longer if it were not for the tremendous encouragement provided by my gracious, intelligent, and beautiful XYL.  As I was contemplating indoor chores on a Friday morning, she pointed out the opportunity to go out and activate during the best weather of the weekend, and save the chores for a rainy day.  Who am I to argue with such impeccable logic?  Off to the woods we went!!!

I made a point of using the TX-500 with the homebrew dipole suspended in that ancient hemlock tree to complete the Kilo activation, going back toward the starting point, as it were.  Of course I did finish with CW mode and 5 watts to commemorate my personal growth during the journey, too.  I was set up to go by mid-afternoon.  Needing 57 contacts to complete the Kilo, I decided to get some contacts on 20m, then move to 40m a bit later.

Getting started on 20m.

After calling CQ for almost half an hour to get two contacts, I decided to move to 40m a bit sooner than planned…

With the antenna lowered, I am reconnecting the links for 40m.

40m was hot!  I completed the eight additional contacts needed for a successful activation in less than 15 minutes.  By the 2 hour mark, I had racked up a total of 69 contacts and finished the Kilo.

As a final note, I picked up 55 more contacts on Saturday, bringing my total CW mode contacts over 1000.  The rain started early Sunday morning, and I got my indoor chores finished after all.

Gear for the Final Activation:

Photos

An arborist throw line works great for setting up the antenna here!
Almost any weather is great when you are doing a POTA activation!
But sometimes cold fingers limit your endurance…
My starting kit for the TX-500.
Antennas and accessories for the TX-500 kit.  Home-brew linked dipole is on the right.
Arborist throw line for the TX-500 kit.
TX-500 kit packed for POTA!

Field Report: Pairing the Discovery TX-500 and Tufteln EFRW for an ATNO at Base de plein air Sainte-Foy

At some point during my Canada travels this summer, I realized I had been using the Elecraft KX2 quite heavily. If you’ve been following my recent field reports, you’ve no doubt seen a lot of the KX2.

This was never intentional–it’s just how it played out.

Why the KX2 in heavy rotation?

For starters, I only brought two general coverage radios with me to Canada: the KX2 and the Discovery TX-500. I also tucked away my KX1 and MTR-3B (hidden under the floor of my boot/trunk space), but band conditions were so incredibly poor most days, I liked the option of a QRP “full gallon” (ie. 5 watts+) for activations. The KX2 and TX-500 can push up to 10 watts when needed.

The KX2 tends to be the radio I reach for when I don’t know what to expect at a park. Most parks I activated in Québec were firsts for me so I liked having my most versatile radio option on hand.

Since the KX2 has a built-in ATU, battery pack, and even an internal mic; it’s so self-contained, I pretty much take it everywhere.

Operating from my kneeboard at the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve (check out that activation)

The KX2 is also one of the most compact radios I own–so compact, in fact, it fits on a small folding knee board my friend Carolanne (N0RNM) made (see in photo above and read more about the design in her guest post). With this kneeboard, I’ve no need of a table: just strap the board to my leg, add radio & log book, and I’m good to go!

Whereas I feel like the KX2 is a Swiss Army Knife of a radio, the TX-500 feels more like a tactical radio–ready for any changing weather environment. The TX-500 is water resistant, weather/dust sealed, and insanely rugged. It’s also the most efficient general coverage QRP radio I own, needing only 100-110 mA in receive.

The TX-500 is super portable and I tend to reach for it when weather conditions are uncertain. In a way, I often don’t think about it when there’s good weather. Odd, but true!

It’s a wee bit too wide for my current knee board, but (hint) if you own a TX-500, hang tight. There may be a knee board in your future.

All that said, the big reason I didn’t take the TX-500 to the field a lot is because it served as my “home base” transceiver at our rental condo in Québec. I had it set up for hunting POTA and SOTA activators and making casual contacts. The TX-500 sat on a table next to the deck at the condo and was hooked up to the CHA MPAS Lite most of the time; the KX2 stayed packed away for POTA/SOTA.

TX-500 field time!

On July 18, 2022, I grabbed the TX-500 from the table and packed it in my field radio backpack.

My wife and daughters were up for a trip to Québec City, so I picked out a park in the Sainte-Foy part of town.

There are many POTA parks in Sainte-Foy (indeed, I already activated four of them) but the one that immediately came to mind was one of the few I’d explored previously in Québec: Base de plein air Sainte-Foy.

In 2017 and 2018, I joined the Club Radio Amateur de Québec (CRAQ) at the Base de plein air Sainte-Foy for the ARRL’s Field Day.  I knew it was a pretty expansive park with a nice lake and beach. It looked pretty welcoming in the summer, but I imagine the park gets even more visitors in the winter for skating, cross-country skiing and sledding.

I was very surprised to discover that Base de plein air Ste-Foy was also a POTA ATNO. No doubt, there had been plenty of radio activity on-site int he past, but no POTA activations.

Continue reading Field Report: Pairing the Discovery TX-500 and Tufteln EFRW for an ATNO at Base de plein air Sainte-Foy

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