Recap of my first SOTA activation with the Venus SW-3B

I made a short post yesterday morning noting that I planned to take my Venus SW-3B and new field kit out on a maiden SOTA/POTA activation.

While I will be publishing a full activation report and video, it could be a good two weeks down the road.

I’ve gotten so many inquiries about the SW-3B, I thought I’d write up a short recap with some of my initial notes using the SW-3B in the field.

This isn’t a comprehensive review; just some beginning field notes I made for a full review I’ll write for The Spectrum Monitor magazine.

Dogback Mountain (W4C/EM-066)

I decided to activate Dogback Mountain knowing that it would easily fit in my travel plans. The views (see above) were extraordinary. Thank you for the tip, Dave (W4JL)!

This was also a shake-out for my Tom Bihn HTL2 field kit which will likely be shared with the SW-3B and Elecraft KX1. It includes everything I need to deploy the SW-3B in the field–including an arborist throw line!

I confirmed that everything in the kit worked and there were no missing components.

I paired the SW-3B with my PackTenna Mini 20 meter EFHW. This limited me to the 20 meter band, but I suspected it would yield enough contacts to validate my summit (4) and park activation (10).

I fed the Venus SW-3B with a 3 Ah 12V Bioenno LiFePo4 battery pack–my output power would’ve been about 5 watts.

Results

In short? It really couldn’t have gone better.

I worked a total of 43 stations in 44 minutes on the air. Here’s what my contacts look like on a QSO Map (click image to enlarge):

Venus SW-3B Field Notes

Overall, the experience of using the SW-3B was brilliant.

Since this little rig doesn’t have an internal speaker, I recorded the audio with an in-line Sony digital recorder. Later, when I produce the activation video, hopefully I can blend the separate audio channel with the video successfully. (Any YouTuber worth their salt can do this, but keep in mind I’m not really a YouTuber!)

SW-3B Pros:

  • Excellent receiver for field activations. I noticed no overloading and it handled the pileups very well.
  • Very pleased with CW filtering.
  • I was able to successfully program the “CQ” button with the following message: “BK TU 72 DE K4SWL” This is huge. At one point, the SW-3B could only handle a simple CW + callsign message. I’m very pleased its only message memory slot can hold the end of my exchange. Also, it is very easy to program.
  • The SW-3B is incredibly compact; only slightly bulkier than the MTR-3B if you include the encoder and AF/RF gain pot protrusions.
  • I am loving the dedicated AF and RF gain pots.
  • Display is very easy to read in the field.

SW-3B Cons:

  • Changing the CW keying sped on the fly is really not an option. It’s an awkward process.
  • The sidetone isn’t adjustable without modifying an internal component. If I could, I’d lower it just a notch or two. As-is, it’s perfectly fine, but adjustable sidetone would be a nice feature.

SW-3B Quirks:

  • When switching bands, the SW-3B defaults to saved memory allocations (not the last used frequency). If you forget and switch bands, then turn the encoder, it cycles through saves memory allocations instead of up/down tuning.

Summary

Keep in mind: this is my first activation with the SW-3B. I don’t typically form strong opinions until I’ve taken a radio on at least three or four activations and used it at the QTH extensively. With that said, first impressions are great. This radio offers much more than I would ever expect for $188.

I see why it has has become so incredibly popular among CW field activators. Now that the Mountain Topper MTR-3B is no longer available, this is a viable alternative.

I’m sure some of you may be trying to decide between the MTR-4B and the SW-3B. I will be reviewing an MTR-4B soon, but based on my experience with the MTR-3B, I don’t think you could go wrong with either radio, frankly.

The MTR-4B does allow for a total of 3 CW message memories that are very easy to access and include beacon mode. You can also adjust the sidetone volume on the MTR-4B (requires opening the enclosure to make the adjustment). Obviously, the MTR-4B is a four band radio including 80 meters in addition to 40, 30, and 20.

The SW-3B, however, has an AF and RF gain control–the MTR series has no volume control at all. The SW-3B also has a rotary encoder which makes chasing contacts across the band much easier.

The MTR-4B receiver current is roughly 27 milliamps. The Venus SW-3B closer to 40 milliamps. (Yeah, splitting hairs here!)

Stay tuned!

In the coming weeks, I will be posting a number of activation reports and videos using the SW-3B. As I mentioned, I’ll also post a comprehensive review for The Spectrum Monitor magazine in the coming months.

I can say this: if you’re a CW op who is searching for a compact field radio?  The SW-3B is a no-brainer. Just grab one.

If you still can’t decide between the MTR-4B and the SW-3B, consider getting both. Why? You could easily kit out two independent fully self-contained field packs on the (relative) cheap!

This will give you two choices for grab-and-go field activations.

Thank you

As always, I’d like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I truly appreciate the support.

Your support not only pays the bills at QRPer.com, but makes it possible for me to purchase radios like the SW-3B.

Thank you!

I hope you get an opportunity to play radio this week.  Stay healthy and safe out there!

Cheers & 72/73!

Thomas (K4SWL)

18 thoughts on “Recap of my first SOTA activation with the Venus SW-3B”

    1. That is brilliant! It might make the SW-3B a little too bulky for my field pack, but I’m still temped to print this. I’ll need to buy some ABS, though.

  1. Regarding the sidetone level, I seem to remember balancing the sidetone and signal volumes using the AF/RF gain differential. Its been a year or 2 since i had the SW-3b though. The filter is not great for a contest type environment, but shaped perfectly for more casual use and, it sounded great! Glad they made the memory slot fully configurable.

    1. Thank you, Paddy. What a great resource. I don’t really hang around on Facebook these days, but it’s great to see there’s a dedicated group for the SW-3B.

  2. Couldn’t hear you at the qth.
    LNR has shut down their order site until they get caught up. They’re working on 12/5/21 orders.
    Will be looking forward to the vid for this activation.

  3. As usual, a great video Thomas, thanks for sharing. I look forward to watching each and every one of them. We share similar likes. I’m 99.9% CW QRP and operate portable as often as possible. Just an FYI, the newest version of the MTR4 has volume control now. The little Venus is so similar to my HB1B. I just rec’d my TR-35 kit from John Dillon….excellent customer service! 72 de Brent VA3YG

  4. thank for the report , gotta get 1 now to replace the tribander, and can’t beat that price; knobs alone r worth it.
    72s

  5. Thomas, I really enjoy your reviews and videos. Keep up the good work!

    A general comment prompted by this post. You mention sharing the Tom Bihn HTL2 between different radios. To me, that somewhat defeats the purpose of the kit. Swapping radios around increases the possibility you’ll end up with a radio and a power cord that don’t match, perhaps an antenna with the wrong connector or even the wrong band if it’s a single bander. There is the possibility that you are much better organized than I am, I will admit!

    I realize that reviewing a bunch of gear as you do, perhaps individual, complete kits could be seen as a bit luxurious or even impractical. I only have two kits (KX2 and LNR MTR-3B_LCD) and I have each geared up with its own set of paddles, logging notebook, pencils, cables, batteries, etc. The MTR kit even includes a tiny 3-cell LiPo charger that can be used in the vehicle if needed. I may end up in the park with a different radio than I had planned, but I can get there with the correct assortment of bits and pieces.

    Thanks again!

    1. That is an excellent question! You, sir, think like I do in terms of field packs.

      This Tom Bihn HLT will actually have everything for both radios. The main item, to be honest, that they can’t share is the power cord. So it already has both inside. The battery, key, RG-316 patch cable, throw line, etc. All of that can be used with either radio.

      I actually have a separate kit for the KX1 that’s dedicated to it alone–in a small Pelican case. It’s a self-contained kit and will keep the KX1 paddles. The HLT2 will house the SW-3B. When I decide to take the KX1 instead, I simply open the case in my shack, remove the SW-3B from the HLT2 and put it in the KX1 case. The KX1 will only stay in the HLT2 during the field trip. When back at the QTH, I put them in their respective packs.

      It’s true that with the number of radios I have, there’s a limit of the amount of individual fully self-contained kits I can afford. 🙂

      I’m going to see how this sharing arrangement works! 🙂

      Again, great question and observation!

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  6. That’s a cool little summit. I’ve thought about doing Field Day there one year. It’s unfortunate that the county line doesn’t cross the summit. It’s very, very close.

    Tommy WZ4M (formerly W4TZM when I activated Dogback)

  7. Looking forward to your continued assessment of this rig, as I’m very interested in buying it. Since I don’t have a lot of money to throw around it’s important I get the best it can get. Notices on this radio to date look promising.

    Thanks for the posts!

    Rob
    KB7PWJ

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