Which to choose? The Venus SW-3B or the Penntek TR-35?

Many thanks to Pat (N0HR) who shared following question in a comment:

Thomas

I simply love your videos – both your impressions of the gear and the activations themselves. Great stuff.

I’m curious – now that you’ve played with both the SW-3B and the Penntek TR-35, which is the favorite? Seems like they’re both roughly in the same price range.

Thanks for your fantastic channel and website

73,
Pat N0HR

Thank you for the kind words, Pat, and great question! Several people have asked me variations of this very question recently.

I like both radios, so I’ll frame this in a way that might help others make a purchase decision.

Spoiler alert: You really can’t go wrong with either radio and I feel it’s more a question of operator preferences.

Both of these radios are affordable and perform better than I would expect from anything under $400.

Some advantages of the Venus SW-3B:

We’ll start with the Venus SW-3B. Here are some of its advantages over the TR-35:

  • Super compact. Both radios are handheld size, but the SW-3B must be one of the smallest multi-band transceivers currently on the market.
  • Inexpensive. At $189 it’s also one of the least expensive multi-band transceivers on the market.
  • Slightly wider input voltage range: 8-15V compared with the TR-35’s 9-14V
  • The backlit display of the SW-3B is easier to read in full sunlight compared with the TR-35’s OLED display

Click here to check out the Venus SW-3B and check availability.

Click here to read previous posts, field reports, and watch videos of the SW-3B in action.

Some advantages of the TR-35:

So what advantages does the Penntek TR-35 have over the SW-3B? Here are a few:

  • Available as a kit ($279) or assembled and tested ($378)
  • Four bands: 40, 30, 20, and 17 (the SW-3B lacks 17M)
  • Being a kit, it would be quite easy to fix if something broke
  • Two CW Message memories via recent firmware updates (the SW-3B has only one message memory)
  • Three bandwidth selections (CW narrow, CW wide, SSB)
  • Dedicated variable power output control. The SW-3B power output is only adjustable by changing the input voltage.
  • Dedicated keyer speed control. The SW-3B keyer speed is essentially impossible to adjust in the middle of a busy activation.
  • Internal sidetone volume control. The SW-3B requires a modification to lower sidetone volume (default volume is perfectly fine for my use).
  • Dedicated straight key and paddle inputs
  • If fed 12-14 volts, power output can be pushed above 5 watts; even topping off at 10 watts on 30M with 14 volts.

Click here to check out the Penntek TR-35 and check availability.

Click here to read previous posts, field reports, and watch videos of the TR-35 in action.

Both radios are super portable, pack excellent performance for the field, and have quiet T/R switching. Both rigs are also designed and manufactured by real amateur radio operators and this shows in the performance and functionality. Both manufactures give excellent customer service based on messages I’ve received from readers.

No doubt, the SW-3B is the smallest, least expensive, and more bare-bones. If you want a super lightweight and effective CW transceiver, you can’t go wrong.

The TR-35, however, is still very compact and affords you one more band, one more CW message memory, two more filter widths, and control of sidetone volume and output power. The keyer speed is also at your fingertips–something I wish was more accessible on the SW-3B.

I hope this helps in your decision making process. Again, you can’t go wrong with either radio.

MTR-4B v TR-35?

In fact, while writing this, I realize that I should also compare the Penntek TR-35 with the Mountain Topper MTR-4B.

Stay tuned!

31 thoughts on “Which to choose? The Venus SW-3B or the Penntek TR-35?”

    1. I actually prefer the poly case that is on the TR-35. It’s very rugged and lightweight.

    1. So I’m not in front of the radio right now or at the QTH, but I believe it only has one default Iambic mode. Perhaps someone else can chime in?

        1. Thanks, but Iambic modes don’t involve reversing paddles.

          With Iambic keying, if you squeeze both paddles simultaneously, the keyer will generate a continuos string of “DI-DAH-DI-DAH…” or “DAH-DI-DAH-DI…”, depending on whether you pressed the DIT or DAH paddle first. For Iambic Mode B, if you release the paddles in the middle of an element, the keyer will automatically generate the opposite element. For example, releasing both paddles during a DAH, will cause the keyer to generate an extra DIT. Iambic Mode A will just finish the last character and stop. With iambic keying, you can send the letter “C”, for example, with one squeeze of both paddles., but the timing is critical.

          Those who send by just alternating between paddles and never squeeze them simulataneously, the iambic mode won’t matter because you aren’t really using iambic keying. For those poor souls like me who learned by using iambic “squeeze keying” with a particular mode, it’s an important consideration.

          Most rigs these days with one iambic mode typically use Mode B, but I want to be sure before pulling the trigger on this rig. I sent a message to Penntek through the website last week but never got a response.

          Sorry for the bandwidth.

  1. I have not used the Venus, but on the question of Penntek TR-35 or Mountain Topper MTR-4B, I would have to answer both! 🙂 I ended up with both and like them both too much to think about selling one.

    On the TR-35 case, I think the plastic one is plenty rugged. If you manage to damage that, you probably would be doing damage internally no matter what the shell is.

  2. Might as well throw the QCXMini into the ring as well. Not as feature rich but hard to beat the size.

    This is a nice problem to have – which of the many new generation QRP rigs to include!

  3. several months ago i picked the TR35 only because of the knobs….old school here ! and have successfully used it to hunt and activate POTA. this lil guy is rugged, after being dropped least 3 time onto hardwood floor from about 3 ft height (accidentally of course)
    72’s de k8zfj

    1. That is a very nice point with the TR-35. Zero menus and everything has a knob or toggle to easily control it (even with cold or gloved hands).

      1. In the field, I feel like accessibility is higher priority than in the shack. The TR-35 definitely accomplishes this–everything is so darn easy to use!

    2. I’ve dropped mine at the QTH once on a concrete floor and once in the field. It doesn’t even show a scratch. A rugged little guy! 🙂

  4. I just bought and assembled the TR-35. Such a great kit. Made a few QSOs after firing it up the first time and plan on using it for POTA activations. Can’t say enough good about it!

  5. There I was, happy with my small QRP stable of KX1, KX2 and MTR3B and I stumbled upon Thomas’s website and videos…. I have since added a Lab599 TX500 Discovery, Venus SW-3B, QCX-Mini and after reading SWL an Elad FDM-DUO. So do I need a TR-35, no. Do I want a TR-35, yes. Then I saw the TR-45…

    My name is Richard and I’m QRPaholic…..

    M0RGM

    1. Hello Richard,

      I started with a TX-500 very happily, but then it occurred to me: what would I do if anything ever happened to take it out of service!?!

      I looked at the KX2 and the MTR-4B, carefully weighing price and features… But, I found out there was an ordering hiatus for the mountain-topper, so I immediately ordered the KX2 with 8-12 week delivery. A week later I became aware of the TR-35, and ordered one – it was delivered the same week.

      A couple of weeks ago I sent the TR-35 back for firmware upgrade (love the memory keyer) and they shipped it back same week. It arrived on the same day I took delivery of the KX2!

      Oh the dilemmas! I really like each radio for what it uniquely offers, and I won’t be trading in any of them soon.

      My name is Brian, and I’m a QRPaholic…

      PS. Thomas is spot on with his assessment of the TR-35. Also its plastic case is very robust. This from a guy who owns a TX-500…

      1. Brian,

        As a QRPaholic myself, you are most welcome in this community. Always feel free to reach out if you feel like there’s any barrier between you and a QRP radio. We’ll help you sort that out in short order! 😆

        I’m with you 100% here. I especially can relate to the comment about appreciating “each radio for what it uniquely offers.”

        Cheers,
        Thomas
        K4SWL

    2. Hi, Richard,

      So admitting you’re a QRPaholic is the first step. The second step is getting the TR-35. The third step? Yes….the TR-45L when it’s available for order. 😊

      Disclaimer: I’m a wee bit of an enabler!

      Cheers,
      Thomas

      1. And I forgot to include in my stable, my MX-14s, (the one that started it all for me), my MFJ Cub and an EK1C.

        Richard M0RGM

    1. Ha ha! I’m flattered Hiram Maxim would reach out from the afterlife to ask this question.

      For super minimalist SOTA work, I might choose the SW-3B 3 times out of 5 for much of the same reasons I’d choose the MTR-3B.

      The TR-35 offers up a level of control and accessibility, though, that makes it a brilliant choice on a summit or in a park. And I love 17M.

      I honestly like both. You’ll probably see me use the TR-35 more than the SW-3B, though, because it’s more versatile.

      Cheers,
      Thomas

      1. Agree here. I have the TR-35 and the SW-3C ( similar to the B ) and I would have say I prefer the TR-35 to the Venus line at present but I will continue to use both. 73 de Jon K7CO

  6. About which to choose, well nothing beats a transceiver which you have make yourself. Being a kit, having one more band, more power and a memory more, I would not hesitate and order the TR-35. Being able to reduce the CW speed with a knob is also a nice additional advantage.

    About being spoiled for choice Thomas, I hope more kits see the light.

    Nothing beats a qso with that home made transceiver.

    73 ON6UU

    1. You’re right: kits are a whole new level of fun!

      I will be building the TR-45L when it becomes available and really look forward to that. I also need to build one of EA3GCY’s kits!

      Cheers,
      Thomas

    2. Frank, you have a fair comment there, the SW-3B does require a little tweaking to get set up. The TR-35 with the rotary controls does appeal….

      Richard M0RGM

  7. Well, after all the enabling here, I ordered the TR-35! We’re visiting my brother and his family who live in Mexico (he’s who got me into this hobby to begin with), and I thought it’d be great fun to build the kit with him while down there. He loves kits of all kinds. Thinking I’ll build a linked EFHW to get 17M…

    Excited to have a true QRP CW only rig in my arsenal!

      1. Thanks, Randy for the report on your successes. It’s a fun band and one I currently don’t have field deployable outside of my AlexLoop. I did have a home brew linked dipole with 17, but it’s on loan and has been for quite a few months… I think one of their dogs decided to chew on it also…

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