Yesterday, it was pouring rain but I had a hankering for some radio therapy, so I popped by Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861) knowing that they have a large covered shelter where I could set up the Elecraft KX1 and AX1 antenna and play POTA.
It being a rainy, cool day, I was the only visitor at the park.
Ignoring the fact that we did some repairs to the ActivationMobile (our Subaru), and the fact we just committed to a pretty pricey arborist quote for tree work at the QTH (those guys do earn their keep), I also spent some of my hobby money. On what, you ask?
Yes, I bought no less than two QRP transceivers this week. This, after I promised myself “no more radio purchases in 2021.”
Don’t ask for details, but I very easily justified each purchase. It was almost effortless, in fact.
What did I snag?
The USDR (USDX)
Over the past month or so, I’ve gotten a bazillion questions from QRPer readers and YouTube channel subscribers about this particular sub $200 eight band QRP transceiver.
Thing is, I’ve avoided even mentioning this radio because I was under the impression it was an illegal clone of either the QRPLabs QCX or PE1NNZ/DL2MAN’s work. I decided I’d go straight to someone I trusted and ask whether the uSDR/uSDX is, indeed, an illegal clone.
So, I wrote Hans Summers (G0UPL) at QRPLabs and asked for his input. Hans decided to post his reply to me on the QRPLabs blog because he’s been asked this question so much.
Hans wrote the following (click here to read the original):
The question keeps coming up, about the radios called QCX-uSDX (and other such variants of name) on eBay and elsewhere:
Are these QCX “clones”?
NO! They are NOT clones of the QRP Labs QCX-mini 5W CW transceiver (see http://qrp-labs.com/
The QCX transceiver is a high performance 5W single band CW transceiver, designed by Hans G0UPL and produced by QRP Labs. It is NOT open source. QRP Labs is a commercial venture and all software, designs and hardware are proprietary to QRP Labs. Copying in whole or in part is illegal. If you see any QCX clones anywhere (eBay, AliExpress etc) please inform us.
uSDX is an SDR transceiver that was originally developed on the hardware of the original QCX http://qrp-labs.com/qcx by Guido PE1NNZ. Later work by Manuel DL2MAN encouraged more interest and the uSDX spun off into its own separate project, with its own discussion group at https://groups.io/g/ucx.
uSDX is not affiliated with QRP Labs or supported by QRP Labs. uSDX is an independent open source project. The radios being sold on eBay, AliExpress etc are versions of uSDX. They aren’t “clones” because uSDX is open source and any productions of the radio by anyone are legitimate. Having said that, you may question what quality and support you will get.
If you look at the uSDX group https://groups.io/g/ucx you will see quite a bit of discussion about this recently including opinions on these particular radios you mention so please take a look there.
The uSDX project was originally called QCX-SSB by Guideo PE1NNZ because he made some hardware modifications to QCX and wrote his own firmware. His github page still has this “QCX-SSB” on it, and since some of these eBay sellers have ignorantly copy-and-pasted, “QCX” appears in the title… which does cause some considerable confusion… since they are not QCX. The word “QCX” should not appear in the title since it is totally inaccurate and misleading. But try telling eBay sellers that…
The uSDX, and particularly its eBay implementations, are not a high performance transceiver. It’s very clever technical work by PE1NNZ and subsequent developers, but it has significant performance limitations due to the low CPU power available in the ATmega328 and the limited resolution of the 10-bit ADC in the ATmega328.
The eBay implementations also often suffer inferior components and poor design choices which are not compatible with the original uSDX design.
Thank you for the clarification, Hans.
After receiving this reply, I searched eBay and purchased a uSDR/uSDX from the seller with the highest customer service rating. He accepted my offer of $173 US shipped. I’ll now wait for it to arrive (hopefully) sometime in early December.
To be very clear: I didn’t buy the uSDR hoping that it might be a choice field radio. In fact, I expect the shortcomings Hans mentioned (performance, quality control, and lack of support) to be issues.
My goal with the uSDR is to make a few activation videos showing what the uSDR experience is like in real field conditions. My expectations, as you might imagine, are incredibly low. If it turns out to be a sub-par radio, then I hope it discourages others from purchasing it. In truth, though, I honestly don’t know what to expect.
I know of at least one QRPer reader who is planning to do a write up on his experience with the uSDR and that should be published here well before my unit arrives (if the shipping estimate is accurate). Stay tuned!
TEN-TEC Argonaut V (Model 516)
While browsing the QTH.com classifieds this weekend, I found an ad for a Ten-Tec Argonaut V. The seller described it as being in “pristine condition and operating to factory specs on all bands.”
The radio came with everything it should plus a Shure microphone.
The seller seemed to be a nice fellow and sent me a number of photos with his QSL card in the image and his email address matched what was on file with QRZ.com. The seller checked out on many levels confirming this wasn’t a scam (always assume a classifieds listing could be a scam!).
I bought it and expect it to be delivered sometime next week.
Why the Argo V?
First of all, I used to be a huge fan of Ten-Tec. I owned an OMNI VI+ for years and Beta tested a number of Ten-Tec’s QRP rigs including the Argonaut VI (click here to read my review from 2012). I’m still friends with many of the former Ten-Tec staff; they were an amazing group. I used to be a regular at their factory and hamfests. They were an amazing team. I’m using past tense, but Ten-Tec is still in business–just in a more limited capacity than before.
If I’m being honest, though, the real reason I’ve always wanted an Argonaut V, specifically, is because I absolutely love the front panel design of this radio.
The large LED digit frequency display is fabulous and has–as my buddy WD8RIF put it–a certain “Apollo era” aesthetic. The large frequency display was one of my favorite things about the OMNI VI+ as well.
The Argonaut V also has a very simple, very Ten-Tec, front panel with good field ergonomics. In fact, the Argo V is a very simple radio: there are no modern features like message memory keying, built-in batteries, nor does it have an internal ATU.
It’s also power hungry for a radio sporting the name Argonaut: I believe its current consumption hovers around 1A! The flip side of that is you benefit from robust Ten-Tec audio.
I eventually sold my OMNI VI+ because it simply took up too much room in my small shack. It was a very deep and wide radio and, with the power supply/speaker, needed serious real estate.
I’m hoping the Argonaut V will fill that Ten-Tec void. You can bet you’ll see it in future field activation videos.
Curious if there are any other Argo V owners out there? Please comment!
For the record: this time I mean it when I say “no more radio purchases in 2021!”
I just have to hold out for, what? 63 days? Surely…