Last week, I posted a review of the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 antenna tuner that is designed to pair with the new Icom IC-705 transceiver.
My initial assessment was very positive, but since then the shine has worn off. I’ll explain…
On Monday, I took the IC-705 and mAT-705 to the field for a little Parks On The Air (POTA) fun.
After arriving on site, I very quickly deployed the EFT-MTR antenna using my throw line. I then hooked the EFT-MTR up to the mAT-705 ATU and connected the ATU to the IC-705.
After turning on the IC-705, I opened the menu screen and tried to engage the mAT-705 ATU. Unfortunately, the ‘705 didn’t recognize the tuner. I double-checked to make sure the control cable to the mAT-705 was secure–it was. After some head-scratching, I realized I must have left the ATU’s mechanical power switch in the “on” position while using it a few days prior.
This evidently depleted the mAT-705’s internal 9V battery. What a bummer!
I bragged about the mAT-705 in a previous post because, frankly, it is a very capable ATU–quickly finding matches from 160 to 6 meters on my random wire field antenna and horizontal loop antenna at home. It also has an incredibly sturdy aluminum enclosure. It’s a very capable ATU in terms of quickly and efficiently finding matches and, superficially smacks of superb build quality.
But if I’m being honest, my love affaire with the mAT-705 ended Monday due to a number of discoveries.
9 volt batteries
According to Mat-Tuner’s product description, the mAT-705:
“[I]s powered by an internal standard 9 volt alkaline battery. Power saving technology inside the tuner allows the use of the unit for months without replacement. No battery power is consumed by the unit when powered off.”
Turns out, they mean it saves power only with the mechanical power switch turned “off.”
This, in turn, means that the user must remember each time they use the mAT-705 to flip the mAT-705 mechanical switch off. If left in the “on” position by accident, even with no connection to the IC-705 and while not in use, it will deplete a 9V cell in a matter of a few days.
This is a significant issue, in my opinion, and is compounded by a few other design choices:
Complicated battery removal
There is no “easy access” to the mAT-705 battery. The user must use a supplied (standard) Allen wrench and unscrew the rear panel from the chassis.
As we mentioned in our previous post, Mat-Tuner actually has a procedure for opening the case and replacing the 9V battery in order to prevent the LED illuminators from falling out. I followed this procedure to the letter, yet the illuminators still fell out. They simply aren’t secured properly and would be very easy to lose if replacing a battery in the field.
Once open, you discover that the 9V battery’s holder is a piece of double-sided tape. Seriously:
In addition, the ATU board essentially “floats” in the chassis secured in slide-in slots. The problem is the back panel–which you pull to remove the board–is only secured to the ATU board with three wired solder points.
Even when I lay the board down carefully, gravity will bend those BNC connections.
I can’t imagine this holding up with multiple battery replacements.
No external power port
Given that battery removal will take a user at least 5 minutes, I find it a little surprising that there’s no external power port.
It would be no problem at all for me, if the 9V battery died, to simply hook the mAT-705 up to my portable DC distribution panel like I can do with other external ATUs. But since this isn’t an option, you’re simply out of luck in the field. Better carry spare 9V batteries!
Where the lack of an external power port is really an issue, though, is for mAT-705 users in the shack. If the IC-705 becomes one of your main radios, you’ll have to be very disciplined to turn it on and off each time you use it, else you’re going to be replacing a lot of 9V cells.
Command connection to the IC-705 is basic
It seems to me that if you build an antenna tuner specifically to pair with a radio via a dedicated control cable, the tuner could potentially:
- derive power from the transceiver
- or at least be told by the transceiver to turn completely off when not actively in use. Especially since once a match is found, it’s locked into position even if the mAT-705 has no power.
The mAT-705 can’t do either.
Is it a good ATU? Yes, but mostly no.
But I can no longer recommend the mAT-705 until some of these design shortcomings are addressed.
I’ve never owned a portable ATU that required so much discipline from the user in order to preserve the battery. I’ve also never owned one that was so fragile internally. Most portable ATUs *only* turn on when finding a match and then either “sleep” or turn off when not in use.
And portable ATUs like the Elecraft T1, for example? Even have a convenient battery compartment for easy removal. (And, oh yeah, the T1 will run ages on a 9V!)
To add insult to injury, it’s one thing to discover that your mAT-705 ATU eats 9V batteries if left on but not in use, but it’s quite something else to discover your $220 ATU’s 9V battery is held in with a piece of double-sided sticky tape.
How long could this possibly function if you’re replacing batteries frequently in the field?
My hope is that Mat-Tuner will sort out this design and re-introduce the mAT-705 to the market. I’ve heard so many positive things about other Mat-Tuner models which is why I wanted to try one out with the IC-705.
Mat-Tuner ATUs are sold by respected retailers in the ham radio world (like Vibroplex, who loaned this model for review) so I expect they’ll address these concerns in the coming months. I’ll certainly post all updates here on QRPer.
Until then, I have to recommend skipping the $220 mAT-705 and instead purchasing the excellent ($160 kit/$190 assembled) Elecraft T1.