This turned out to be an expensive week!

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.

As I walked into the shelter and sorted out which table might serve best as my field shack, a random thought popped up in my head: OM, this has been an expensive week for you!

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?

Incoming radios!

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/qcxmini). They are versions of the uSDX transceiver. They have their own hardware, own firmware, own functionality, and own performance. 

QCX

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

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…

28 thoughts on “This turned out to be an expensive week!”

  1. “I just have to hold out for, what? 63 days? Surely…”
    Bonne chance!! Or should I say, “No chance!!” Haha!
    Congrats on the Ten-Tec!!

  2. I had an Argo V.
    In truth, I have had most of the ‘older’ Argos at one point or another. (I still have 3 of them)
    The V was a great fixed station radio but it consumes quite a bit of juice on RX so I decided it was not really a portable battery powered option.
    I too loved the front panel layout and its wonderful break-in CW performance.
    You will need to watch for ‘duff push buttons’
    After a while (many years) not all of the buttons worked first time. It wasn’t much of an issue as they always worked 2nd or 3rd ‘push’
    So enjoy that radio. I certainly did.

    Now I’m refurbishing an Argo 509.
    I Managed to buy an unused ‘re-greasing’ kit for the slow motion drive — so that’s my Winter project for this year. I’ll put my progress up on my channel (Dr.T.G4ABX)
    Keep up the great work
    You have inspired me to do more portable ops.
    73
    Bruce G4ABX

    1. Noted! I’ll watch out for the duff push buttons!

      Ten-Tec QSK was some of the best in the business. I will definitely enjoy this radio!

      I’ll check out your YT channel, too!

      Cheers,
      Thomas
      K4SWL

  3. I’ve always enjoyed my Triton IV, which I still own, and had an Argo 509 in my room as a kid. My father set it up so I could learn CW, though I didn’t get serious about it until much later. I enjoyed fiddling with the knobs and fine tuning the signals. The Argo V was on my list when it came out but I never did pick one up. I may some day but I’ve purchased entirely to many radios and gear this year myself. I’ve been using them more and that’s a good thing. I’ve taken a pass on the Xiegu X6100 at present as I own a KX2 and 3. I can’t really justify the added expense to satisfy the itch for a new radio. I look forward to your experiences with the new radios.

    1. I, too, have purchased entirely too many radios. 🙂

      The Triton IV is a classic!

      Thanks, for sharing that, Raymond!

  4. Thomas,

    Somehow, rig-rich as I am, I’m envious! The TenTec rig is very intriguing. I have been aware of it, of course, but your articles always bring new light to rigs, both new and “veteran” rigs.

    Have you ever seen the companion 100 watt amp that TenTec shows on their site? See https://www.tentec.com/model-418-160-6-meter-solid-state-linear-amplifier/. The Model 418 appears to be a viable companion for most QRP rigs. But I can’t seem to find a pricing list. Oh well, I’ll just drop them an email.

    Thanks again…and good luck holding your breath..eh, pocketbook…until 2021!

    73,

    Frank
    K4FMH-

    1. Thank you, Frank!

      I am familiar with that amp because it came out at the same time as the Argo VI. I think I even paired my Beta Argo VI with one.

      It worked very well as I recall!

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  5. My first rig was a used Ten Tec Omni D. I have found memories of that radio to include working Heard Island VK0IR. I keep thinking I would like to add an Argo to my collection, but I can’t find one at the right price point. Keep searching.

    1. My buddy Mike (K8RAT) swears by his OMNI D. I remember that he picked it up at a hamfest for a song, too!

  6. I tried a uSDR off Ebay but it was a a disaster. I think my unit may have been a lemon — no one would sell such a bad receiver.

    1. I suspect mine will be a disappointment, but I want to give it a thorough test to see if it has any merit and, especially, if its signal is actually clean enough to please the FCC. I somehow doubt it.

  7. I have been a Ten-Tec Argonaut enthusiast for many years and have had dozens of 505, 509, 515, II, V and VI versions pass through the shack.

    I still cherish my first radio and Argonaut 515.

    I recently put together a slide show presentation – “The Oddessey of the Argonauts” (http://tiny.cc/ooa). I will be doing a live presentation for the Boat Anchor forum of Long Island CW Club on Jan 22, 2022.

    The V was a very good radio, my only complaint was it was not very tolerant of low voltage which was problematic on portable operations.

    1. Radioddity is advertising the X6100 and taking orders. Price is listed as $639, far less than I an most thought it would be, less than the X5101. The X6100 looks like excellent QRP rig, rival to the TX500.

      If I did not have a IC705 I might go for one of the X6100s.

      See Radioddit ad at:
      see at: https://radioddity.com/products/xiegu-x6100?utm_source=US%20Subscribers%20%7C%20Purchased&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=X6100%20Launch%20Update%20%28US%20Purchased%29%20%28SrcBmv%29&_kx=UKbHzouc9N-tDNOMXH3gX7wlVzGDLpJ4pquhbM0X7EM%3D.HYtn7C

    2. Ha ha! I doubt I’ll get my review model until a month or more after release. I do hope it can live up to its looks.

  8. I just bought and receive the uSDX HF Transceiver. It is ok rig. Power varies with band, higher on the lower bands. The receive is not so good, required 1uV to hear a CW signal (tested with my IFR500 service monitor).

    I made a few QSOs with the rig using a 80m OCFD at 32 ft.

    I got the version of the uSDX that is small, 4dx3wx1h inches, has only 3 button on front, tuning button for changing bands, MENU for setting up the rig, and EXIT button for changing mode (CW, USB, LSB). There are other versions, but bet all are similar design.

    I like the rig for what it is. I got on AilExpress for $118 and took about 3 weeks to arrive.

    Here are some parameters I tested the rig I got. Know will be different for other uSDX, all rigs vary.

    uSDX HF Transceiver Test
    October 24, 2021

    Put my new uSDX HF transceiver on the bench today and did some test.

    Power output test, CW straight key down for power output test.
    Test with 13.9VDC power supply into good dummy load. Measured with my R70 digital watt meter.
    80m 4.29W
    40m 3.9W
    30m 3.1W
    20m 3.46W
    18.1 MHz 2.0W
    15m 2.6W
    24 MHz 2.3W
    10m 2.3W

    Current draw
    Receive with no audio 0.12A
    Receive with full audio 0.47A
    Transmit with 3.8W output 0.73A

    Receiver sensitivity. Was not so good, on all 8 bands needed 1 uV to hear what would be a CW carrier.

    Looked at the output on spectrum Analyzer, Rigol DSZ815TG.
    On lower bands did not see any harmonics or spurious emissions up to 50 MHz. On 20m saw harmonic at about 35db down. Other higher bands saw some harmonics at around 40db down. Was reasonable clean.

  9. I have been a Ten-Tec Argonaut enthusiast for over 40 years. I have had dozens of Argonauts- 505, 509, 515, II, V and VI pass through the shack.

    I still own my first HF rig a Ten-Tec Argonaut 515. The Argonaut V was a good radio, my only concern was the intolerance of low voltage levels which was often a problem in portable operations.

    I have put together a slide presentation- “The Oddessey of The Argonauts” http://tiny.cc/ooa. I will also be doing a live version for Boat Anchor Forum on Long Island CW Club zoom Jan 22, 2022

  10. A friend of mine just received his uSDX ahead of shipping schedule. Two words of suggestion:

    – Immediately test your tx signal. You may need to add filtering or tinker with the firmware to get it within spec (remember, this is your responsibility!).

    – The volume control is very sub-par. He found that he got the best audio at 80% volume, and added headphones that have a built-in analogue audio control.

    Have fun. I would think of it as a bit of a DIY radio that comes pre-assembled. There’s lots of ways it can be modified and reprogrammed.

  11. I liked my Argo V so much that I bought a second one. Just this week I surpassed 800 parks worked with POTA, and 90% of them were logged using the Argo V. This is the radio that convinced me that one doesn’t need a 100 watt rig for CW. (As a result the RGO One is on my wish list.) If I can hear them, I can work them with my 20 watts. Of course the Argo gets a daily workout with my QRP operations.

    My only complaint with the radio is that you must cycle up through the bands to make a band change, but an OP soon gets used to that. I’ve read several complaints about no RF Gain with the rig, but the ATTN button seems to serve fine in the infrequent times I’ve needed to reduce the gain.

    I have “better” rigs (Sherwood reviews) but I seldom find the rig lacking. I don’t always get a 5NN report, but I sure enjoy making the contacts with the Argo V.

    1. Thank you for sharing that, Don. You prove a point: it’s not always about specifications and benchmark performance. Sometimes it’s about the love of a radio, its functionality, and usability. The filter between your ears is the best filter, as they say, and radios like the Argo V give your internal filter meaningful information.

      Thanks for sharing!

  12. Boa tarde, admirável colega. Aproveitando que, para mim, és um pesquisador muito bem conceituado, para perguntar sobre a marca YouKits. Até 2017, sabia-se ser uma equipe respeitável e competente. Em 2020 fiz uma compra (HB-1B MK5 2020) e até hoje não recebi o equipamento e tampouco nenhuma resposta aos meus emails. Como resido no Brasil, estou realmente ilhado. Um forte 73. PU2AOO Julio Caesar Ramos

  13. Good afternoon, admirable colleague. Taking advantage of the fact that, for me, you are a very well-regarded researcher, to ask about the YouKits brand. Until 2017, it was known to be a respectable and competent team. In 2020 I made a purchase (HB-1B MK5 2020) and to this day I have not received the equipment or any response to my emails. As I live in Brazil, I’m really isolated. A fort 73. PU2AOO Julio Caesar Ramos

  14. I love my Argo V. I was hoping to use it as my camper radio but it was too hungry for portable use. Mine has a add-on dsp unit and I swear it makes SWL sound like FM. I later picked up an Omni VII but the Argo V sounds so much better and I love the easy to read display. I think you are going to like it Thomas. BTW, it was fun to work you a while back. 73-KG8JK

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