Category Archives: Announcements

Hamvention: Palstar announces the TR-30

The Palstar TR-30 (Click to enlarge)
The Palstar TR-30 (Click to enlarge)

I was more than surprised to find Palstar showcasing a transceiver at the 2013 Hamvention. Palstar is well-known for their tuners and their receiver, the R30A, but they have never sold a transceiver to my knowledge.

As you can see from the photos, the Palstar TR-30 has a simple faceplate with a touch screen display. It is all aluminum, thus is very light. TR-30 is rated for 20 watts PEP and has an 11 pole filter on board.

I hope to review one once it is in production. Palstar expects the TR-30 to be available August 2013.

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)

When I asked about the price, the told me a range of $1,500-2,000 US. (Gulp!)

TEN-TEC Introduces the Model 506 Rebel: an open-source QRP transceiver

The TEN-TEC Model 506 Rebel 20/40 meter QRP Transceiver (Photo: TEN-TEC--click to enlarge)
The TEN-TEC Model 506 Rebel 20/40 meter QRP Transceiver (Photo: TEN-TEC–click to enlarge)

Today, at the QRP ARCI convention–Four Days In May–TEN-TEC will announce a new QRP transceiver based upon a completely different platform than any others rigs they have in production: a QRP radio, built on the chipKIT™ Uno32™ (Arduino-based software) to be known as the Model 506 Rebel.

And, folks, I’ve been lucky enough to get my mitts on a prototype…!

The Model 506 Rebel

The TEN-TEC Model 506 Rebel is an open-source (meaning, anybody can program it), factory-built QRP transceiver based on a Chip Kit Uno 32 Arduino-compatible prototyping platform, which serves as the main processing unit that holds the Rebel’s program. (For those of you not familiar with the Arduino series, check out this article.)

And I have to admit, I love the concept: TEN-TEC delivers a factory-built, uber-simple transceiver, with just enough programming to reliably get you on the air with a basic radio (see details below). Users then have full access to develop and program the Rebel via an open-source platform, themselves. No need to wait on firmware revisions; firmware, in a sense, will be crowd-sourced! That’s to say, it uses online collaboration–a great idea.

According to TEN-TEC, the programming environment is very safe. Users can tinker with code without fear that they might harm their Rebel 506. The original base program can be re-flashed to the radio at any time. So if you can’t get past an error, you can always revert to a safe default copy.

In addition, even if you don’t have any idea how to program, someone has already created a web-based email group where users can upload and share code packages, and you can select someone else’s programming to test drive. Click here to join the group.

The Rebel is a CW-only transceiver that operates on 40 or 20 meters. The user changes bands by moving jumpers inside the chassis, mounted on the PC board.

The basic Rebel comes with no frequency display. When you turn on the radio, it comes up on the QRP calling frequency of 7.030 MHz or 14.060 MHz, depending on which band is selected. There is no VFO, but a DDS chip that is highly stable and that allows the Chip Kit Uno 32 to select a frequency upon which to operate. Of course, since the Chip Kit controls the DDS chip, you can re-program how the Rebel manages frequencies.

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)

Initial impressions

Last week, TEN-TEC sent me a prototype of the Rebel to Beta test. I’ve had it on the air several times–I’ve also popped the cover and given it a thorough inspection and workout. I’ll share my initial impressions below. I’m not commenting, however, on some specs like filtering, as they have not been finalized for production and are still subject to change. The unit I tested, keep in mind, was a prototype; production units will be still more polished and incorporate changes Beta testers have provided.

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)

Front Panel Layout

The front faceplate of the Rebel 506 is reminiscent of TEN-TEC QRP Kits, gloriously clean and simple. There is a large tuning knob in the middle with a SELECT button on the left and FUNCTION button on the right. Both buttons are large enough that you could comfortably use them even if wearing winter gloves. Above each button is a vertical row of just three LEDs: green, yellow and red. These colored LEDs simply indicate the position of the function/selection buttons.

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)

Function button controls

  • Band Width
  • Step Size
  • User-programmed functions

Select button selects

  • Bandwidth: Wide, Medium and Narrow
  • Tuning steps: 100 hz, 1 kHz or 10kHz
  • User, U1, U2 or U3

There are only two knobs: one for volume (AF gain) and one for RIT (+/- 500 Hz). There is also an ON/OFF simple toggle switch, and a rather classy touch from TEN-TEC–namely, a small LED light in the TEN-TEC logo itself. And that’s all, folks–bare-bones design.

No frequency display

The Rebel 506 does not come with a frequency display. However, there are features to help you understand where you are on the band as you turn the encoder:

  1. As you tune within the selected tuning steps, the LED in the TEN-TEC logo flashes as you pass each step; for example, if you’ve selected 100 Hz steps, then when you pass each 100 Hz step, the LED in the logo will flash once. When you reach either band edge, the LED stays lit. Again, a nice touch.
  2. When you turn on the (factory default) Rebel, the frequency starts on QRP calling frequencies 7.030 MHz (40M) or 14.060 MHz (20M)–of course, you could change these with programming.
  3. There are (already) third-party frequency displays that plug into the Rebel’s board, an easy addition.

Since I had neither frequency display nor frequency counter, I simply used my SDR’s waterfall display to locate where I was on the band. It’s also fairly easy to count the steps with the logo’s red LED.

Rear view (Click to enlarge)
Rear view (Click to enlarge)

Connections

On the rear panel, you’ll find a standard BNC antenna connection, a key/paddle port (1/8″), a speaker/headphone port (1/8″) and a standard DC port (10-15V reverse polarity protected) that equates to 4-5 watts output depending on supply voltage.

Key/Paddle input from the factory is only for straight key, but you can modify the code to make it a paddle input. Also, the headphone/speaker port defaults to headphone use from the factory, but there is a small jumper on the PCB that can me moved to drive a non-amplified speaker.

On production units (not on my prototype, however, nor on those at FDIM) there will be a CW side tone volume control pot via a small hole in the side of the Rebel’s enclosure. Also, production units will have a hole on the rear panel to allow for access to the ChipKit’s USB port.

The PCB has hooks, test pins, and inputs for the following:

  • Battery read pin: reads 0.20 of the supply voltage.
  • Power-out read pin: reads 0.50 of the RF pickup
  • Code read pin: ties to low level audio line, can be used to build a CW code reader
  • CW-speed read pin: DC voltage used to determine approximate speed of CW routine

All connections of the Chip Kit Uno32 are available on the top of the PCB.
The unit accepts Arduino-compatible Shields for such things as:

  • Prototyping
  • Displays
  • Audio DSP

Evidently, the Rebel has a lot of memory space for writing CW memory-keyer functions or whatever the user desires/dreams up. Even a voice synthesizer could be installed in the Rebel; indeed, I believe there are many mods and possibilities for the Rebel. The greatest limitation might simply be…the imagination of the user.

TEN-TEC was clear with me about the goal of the Rebel 506: “To provide a platform for users to experiment and to learn to program using Arduino-Compatible Code.”

The Rebel has a small form factor (Click to enlarge)
The Rebel has a small form factor (Click to enlarge)

I like it!

I have thoroughly enjoyed putting this little radio on the air. Let’s be clear, though: this is no Argonaut VI or Eagle, nor should it be expected to be. Receiver performance is on par with other QRP kits and rigs of its class. The Rebel is fairly sensitive and the noise floor is fairly low. Selectivity is adequate for most conditions, although I imagine crowded conditions could overwhelm this modest receiver.

When I had the Rebel on the air, I engaged in a bit of a rag-chew and found the audio quite pleasant from my GoalZero portable amplified speaker. And other than needing to adjust the side tone volume, the Rebel was ready to go, straight out of the box.

Criticisms? Well, it’s just too early to have many. I’ve passed along all my frank observations to TEN-TEC and they’re actually addressing them now (yet again, one of the many benefits of an American-based radio producer). If this were a $900 rig, performance-wise, I would complain about selectivity. But I’m willing to bet it’s at least as good as the Index Labs QRP ++ I once owned. In fact, though it’s not a full-featured general-coverage rig, it has that same sort of bare-boned fun factor the Index Labs radio provided me, along with many other QRP kits.

Field? I would totally take the Rebel into the field or backpacking. I have a hunch it uses less than 200 milliamps on receive. It’s modestly-sized and built like a little tank.

The Rebel lives up to open-source philosophy

The Arduino chipKIT Uno32™ Prototyping Platform
The Arduino chipKIT Uno32™ Prototyping Platform

Here is the amazing part about the Rebel: TEN-TEC only shipped me the radio–no connectors, no adapters, no power cord. At first, I thought I’d have to find an appropriate plug and solder my own power cord, not to mention figure out what other adapters I would need for my key/speaker…but I didn’t. The power port is very standard; the same one my LDG ATU, Elecraft K2 and KX1 use, with standard positive tip polarity. The Rebel’s antenna connector is a BNC, speaker and key ports are standard 1/8″ and the ChipKit board has a mini USB connection. The top cover is easy to remove–even the toggle switch, LEDs and selection buttons are all standard and easy to access for servicing. Everything is standard!

But it doesn’t stop there. The Rebel is truly an experimenter’s radio, and is meant to be. The programming is completely open-source and TEN-TEC is encouraging and facilitating users to tinker with the code and make hardware modifications at will.

Open-source technology is all about alteration and collaboration, the kind of environment we hams have always embraced. In the open-source world, nothing is proprietary; rather, everything is transparent, standard, accessible; supporting changes and modifications of every stripe. And in my humble opinion, it’s about fun. On these points, the Rebel delivers.

I have done some scripting in my past, but I am no professional programmer. Though many of my Maker friends had been urging me to give it a go, I hadn’t jumped on the Arduino band wagon until, well, now. The Rebel will serve both as a great intro to Arduino Compatible Code and a truly fun QRP rig. If TEN-TEC is lucky, this little rig may actually nudge some of my Maker friends to get their ham radio tickets.

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)

Price

TEN-TEC will be announcing the price of the Rebel 506 in Dayton, literally in just a few hours. I have no idea what it will be, but I’m fairly sure it’ll be competitive with other dual band QRP transceivers and kits on the market. I’ll post an update here when the price has been published. Stay tuned…

UPDATE: Pricing for the Rebel is $199 US.

By the way, if you’re at FDIM or the Hamvention this year, drop by booth 411 in the Ball Arena: I’d be happy to talk with you about the Rebel further (and my radio-based non-profit, Ears To Our World).

Disclaimer: Just to be clear, although I own TEN-TEC (also Elecraft and Yaesu) products, and although I Beta test for TEN-TEC on occasion, I have no formal relationship with TEN-TEC. Nor am I compensated by the company in any way. The opinions in this article and others on this site are frank and my own; they are not those of TEN-TEC.

David Cripe’s NM0S Cyclone 40 Meter Transceiver kit

Readers, I just received this release:

A new kit from the Four State QRP Group and David Cripe (NM0S)

NM0S's Cylcone 40M QRP transceiver.  Look for it at Four Days in May!
NM0S’s Cylcone 40M QRP transceiver. Look for it at Four Days in May!

Arising from Dave’s entry in QRP ARCI’s 72 Part Challenge Design Contest in 2010, the Cyclone 40 is an enhanced version of the original design. The transceiver designed for the design contest had 72 total parts, performed well, and won honorable mention. This improved version has less than 100 components and even better performance! The kit features all through hole parts and easy assembly. The receiver is a superhet design with very good sensitivity and selectivity, and tunes the entire 125 kHZ CW segment of the 40M Band – and does so at a comfortable tuning rate. A frequency readout is included so you know where you are at all times.

This is a complete kit, including the enclosure. A high quality board package includes the pc board, front and back panels, the sides, and top and bottom all of which make up the enclosure. The control and jack labels are silk screened in white letters and vividly contrast with the black solder mask, and the holes for the connectors and controls are pre-drilled. The ends are “dovetailed” together making a very rugged, easy to build, and attractive enclosure.

Features and Specifications

General

  • Enclosure: A very nice predrilled and silkscreened enclosure is included. It’s easy to assemble and looks great.
  • Ergonomics: Smooth solid tuning, a quiet receiver with QSK and well behaved AGC. Nicely laid out front and rear panels.
  • VFO: The VFO is a simple PTO design, is very stable, and also quite easy to build
  • Sidetone: Included!
  • AGC: Audio derived, fast and smooth.
  • Frequency Range: 7.000 – 7.125 typical.
  • Tuning Speed: 10kHz/knob turn typical.
  • Stability: 300 HZ the first 5 min after power up, less than 10 HZ/hour after that.
  • QSK: Fantastic QSK! Full Break in, excellent muting, really fast!
  • All Through Hole Parts There are NO SMT parts in this kit, and only three easy to wind toroids.
  • Dimensions: 4.4 x 3.6 x 1.9″
  • Power Connector: 2.5×5.5mm coaxial, center positive. Should be fused at 1A, fast blow at PS
  • Antenna connector: BNC

Receiver

  • Configuration: Superheterodyne, 11 MHZ IF, 4 Crystal IF Filter.
  • Sensitivity: MDS (Minimum Discernable Signal) -125, Typical, below the normal 40M band noise level.
  • Selectivity: Four crystal, 500 HZ IF filter
  • IMD3: 90 dB typical, better than most commercial gear!
  • IP3: +10 dBm typical – another very good number
  • Frequency Readout: 3 or 4 digit CW, 1 kHz or 100 Hz resolution (user selectable), developed by Adrian Hill, KCØYOI.
  • Band Edge Marker: A band edge marker is heard at 7.001 MHZ
  • Headphone Jack: 1/8″ stereo, standard earbud/Walkman® headphone compatible
  • DC Current consumption: 30 ma typical at 13.6 VDC.

Transmitter

  • Configuration: Stable, Wide Range VFO (PTO design), Efficient Class E Final.
  • Spectral Purity: All harmonics and spurs less than 50dB below the carrier.
  • Output Power: approximately 4W into 50 ohms
  • DC Current consumption: 500ma typical at 13.6 VDC Will operate down to 9v DC.
  • Key Jack: 1/8″ stereo, grounded shell, switching the tip keys TX. Contacts accessible for an internal add-on keyer

Kits should be available at QRP ARCI’s Four Days in May conference at Dayton, and will be for sale on the Four State QRP Group’s web site approximately May 20th. The final price hasn’t been determined yet but should be less than $100 plus shipping.

Thursday SOTA: QRP DX from the Jura Mountains

The Juras are located north of the western Alps, predominantly in France. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The Juras are located north of the western Alps, predominantly in France. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

I just received this message from Olivier Parriaux (F4GLD):

This supply is ready!

This Thursday [09 May 2013] we will activate, if time permits, the beautiful summit of Cret de gout which is located in the Jura mountains in JN26WD.

F/JU-004 – Cret de la Goutte Locator JN26wd
46.15140 ° N (46 ° 9 ‘5.0 “N) Longitude 5.86560 ° E (5 ° 51’ 56.2” E) 1621 meters, 5318 feet

Scheduled departure was 0300 TU [UTC] you should be able to follow the ascent via APRS.

We use + or – frequency QRP only Phone on 7/14/21/28 MHz bands depending on the propagation and F4OQU F4GLD Olivier Gilles.

HF Station KX3 5W max, Buddistick antenna, battery and three …
We also try to activate UHF
VHF F0FNC Laurent around 144,290 in SSB.
FT-817 5w max, DK7ZB antenna
We planned things on the air from 5h30/6h30 TU [UTC]

Hoping to see you on the air on Thursday.

73’s to all.

Like Olivier, if you’re planning a SOTA or QRP DXpedition of any stripe, contact me and I’ll be happy to post your announcement here on QRPer.

G6LBQ MKII multiband transceiver in the works

DXKitsLogoA news release from Andy (G6LBQ) & Adrian (2E0SDR):

I have a news release about the NEW version of the world famous G6LBQ multiband transceiver. Andy G6LBQ is releasing the MKII version through a partnership with Adrian Lane (2E0SDR). They have formed a company called DX KITS, it will trade from www.dxkits.com, it is currently in the development stage.

We are having manufactured industry quality PCB’s for the NEW linear board that us 3 x RD16HHF1 Mosfets, along with a digital VFO board coming soon that utilises the SI570. Andy then intends to update the Filter Boards and also create a new and improved exciter board, both the Linear Board & the new VFO board will be compatible with the existing exciter board that will become obselete when the new MKII exciter board is relesed later this year.

There are lots of new development going on with Andy (G6LBQ) and DX Kits for a very brite future and large upgrade for the G6LBQ and Homebrewer all round. DX Kits will be the sole worldwide supplier for the G6LBQ MKII and all of Andy’s future developments. Please visit us at the G6LBQ Yahoo group at groups.yahoo.com/group/G6LBQ/ and keep an eye on our developing site at dxkits.com. We are awaiting our first batch of PCB’s, then the sky is the limit for the HF Homebrewer.

Regards

Andy (G6LBQ) & Adrian (2E0SDR)

Kenwood TS-990 Series English Press Release

Click on image to load the English press release.
Click on image to load the English press release.

Those of you following the Kenwood TS-990 will be happy to know that Kenwood has finally published an official press release with specifications and other details.

They are announcing a suggested retail price of ¥798,000, or $9,138.78 US as of day of posting. They offer the same price for the TS-990S (200 Watts) or the TS-990D (50 Watts-Japan only).

Kenwood has publicized a launch date of February 2013.

Click here to read the full press release.

 

A review of Ten-Tec’s Argonaut VI QRP transceiver, Model 539

The Ten-Tec Model 539, A.K.A. Argonaut VI
The Ten-Tec Model 539, A.K.A. Argonaut VI

And now, what we’ve all been waiting for:  the Ten-Tec Argonaut VI has finally hit the market.   Manufacturer Ten-Tec has already begun shipping the new units–I hear they’ve already sold out the first production run.  For the past two months, I have had the pleasure of beta-testing this newest QRP transceiver, and I’m ready to share my findings.  [Do please note that, other than beta-testing, I have no relationship with Ten-Tec.]

I authored a post about the Model 539 when Ten-Tec first disclosed it at their 2011 Hamfest. The reactions and questions from readers came flooding in–so many, in fact, that I invited readers to send in those questions to share with the engineers at Ten-Tec.  I presented these to the company, and posted Ten-Tec’s helpful responses.

Prototype of the Ten-Tec Model 539 QRP transceiver
Prototype of the Ten-Tec Model 539 QRP transceiver from the 2011 Ten-Tec Hamfest. Note that the speaker no longer has an externally mounted grill.

In truth, I don’t think that Ten-Tec was quite prepared for all of the interest in their modest QRP transceiver. But it was no surprise to me: I’ve always been a fan of Ten-Tec, and although I’ve not been as excited by the QRP offerings since the early Argonauts, I knew I wasn’t alone in my appreciation of this US-based radio company’s quality products.

The following review is not a test-bench review–it is, rather, a consideration of the usability, ergonomics, design, basic performance and, well, fun factor of the new Argonaut VI.  It’s only fair to note that I don’t review transceivers often; rather, I focus primarily on receiver reviews at my alternate radio blog.  But I could not resist the opportunity to investigate the newest in this venerable line of transceivers.

Size-wise, the Argonaut VI is smaller than the Elecraft K2 in every dimension.
Size-wise, the Argonaut VI is smaller than the Elecraft K2 in every dimension.

You will note that I compare the Argonaut VI to the Elecraft K2 a number of times. Why? In my opinion, the K2 is the Argonaut VI’s closest competitor. It, too, is a front-panel QRP transceiver not for general coverage. While there are a number of differences, of course, I nonetheless feel the K2 is a closer match than the new Elecraft KX3, the Yaesu FT-817, or the Icom IC-703. Plus, I have a K2 that I already know and love here in my shack, so by default it has been my point of comparison throughout the beta-testing period.

Argonaut VI: first impressions

The Argonaut VI is an attractive, simple, sturdy little radio. It reminds me a great deal of the Ten-Tec Scout outfitted with its simple front panel. The front features two knobs: one controls the AF gain, while its outer ring controls RF gain; the other controls the bandwidth, while its outer ring controls the pass band. There is also an appropriately-sized display panel, quality tuning knob (see below), four multi-function buttons, and a three-position toggle switch.

The TMB switch is a simple and effective way of giving the Argo VI's four function buttons multiple assignments.
The TMB switch is a simple and effective way of giving the Argo VI’s four function buttons multiple assignments.

A toggle switch? I can’t think of a recent front-panel radio in production that has had a proper mechanical toggle switch. On the Argo VI, this makes for a simple method to give the four function buttons a total of three one-push functions, each, for a total of twelve functions. Ten-Tec refers to this switch as the “TMB” (i.e., “Top-Middle-Bottom”) switch.

Size-wise, the Argonaut VI is smaller in every dimension than the K2 (see photos). Its physical dimensions are 2.25″H x 6.5″W x 7.6″D, less the knobs and connectors. It weighs a mere 3.6 lbs, and feels very light in my hands. The Argo VI has a sturdy Ten-Tec bail that snaps into the perfect position for tabletop operations. The display is crisp and clear, and actually contains a lot of information:

The Argonaut VI display is compact, yet crisp, clear and displays all important information.
The Argonaut VI display is compact, yet crisp, clear and displays all important information.
  • Frequency
  • 2nd VFO frequency
  • Mode
  • AGC speed
  • S Meter/SWR
  • Output power
  • Pre-amp

The display can be switched (via an internal setting) to blue (default), green, or red. One nice touch: the dot in the Ten-Tec logo is actually a red LED that lights up on transmit and ALC peaks.

Tuning knob

This is the best tuning knob I've ever used on a QRP rig
This is the best tuning knob I’ve ever used on a QRP rig

Perhaps I place more emphasis on a tuning knob that other hams. I liken it to shutting the door on a quality car: you want the door to shut solidly and feel substantial. But it may be more like a car’s steering wheel–after all, the tuning knob is how one interacts with the radio. To me, the tuning knob is often a measure of a radio’s overall quality, in my humble opinion.  As for the Argonaut VI?  Here’s the answer:  I was so impressed with the tuning knob on the Argonaut VI that I actually confirmed with Ten-Tec that the beta-unit’s tuning knob would also be used on production models. In short, the Argo VI’s tuning knob is heavy, perfectly-sized, has a light tactile grip, and is silky-smooth to operate. There is no play whatsoever in the action. I like the adaptive tuning, too–when you tune slowly, you’re changing the frequency by hundredths of a kHz; spin the knob quickly and you’ve just shot across the band. After tuning the Argo VI for a bit, other small radios’ tuning knobs begin to feel cheap.

IMG_6508Ergonomics/Usability

When I first played with the Argo VI at the Ten-Tec hamfest, I was impressed with the simplicity of the front panel. This is an important factor because I simply won’t use a radio that isn’t pleasant to use/control, and I find that too many front buttons and general visual fussiness can be a distraction. To illustrate my point, when the Yaesu FT-817 hit the market over a decade ago, I was among the first to purchase one. I liked the idea of a small transceiver that I could tuck in my carry-on and take with me as I traveled. But I ended up selling the FT-817, however, because I hated the ergonomics and multi-function buttons. Button spacing was too tight for my larger hands, important multi-functions seemed to overlap, and menus were buried too deep for convenient operation. The FT-817 had a profound impact on all other buying decisions I’ve made since, and taught me that too much can simply be…too much.

The red dot in the Ten-Tec logo is actually a red LED that lights up on ALC peaks and CW transmit. (Click to enlarge)
The red dot in the Ten-Tec logo is actually a red LED that lights up on ALC peaks and CW transmit. (Click to enlarge)

Happily, on the Argo VI the most often used transceiver functions have dedicated buttons/knobs, and the display includes everything I need. Clean, clear, straightforward–this rig provides a pleasant operating experience.

For basic operations like rag-chewing, scanning the band, switching modes, switching bands, adjusting RF/AF/BW and PBT, you’ll be pleased, too.  None of these operations require calling multi-functions or toggling the TMB switch (assuming you’re already in the “M” position).

But after spending some time on the air, I realized that there is a bit of a learning curve you’ll have to overcome before front-panel operations become entirely fluid and intuitive. To change RIT, you need to toggle the TMB switch to “B”, then press the RIT (BAN) button to toggle RIT on and off. If you hear DX working split, you’ll need to move the TMB switch to the “T” position, then set the A/B and SPL buttons; if you need to change modes or turn on the pre-amp, then you’ll have to move TMB back to “M.”

In the first few hours of  testing the Argo VI, I found it easy to forget that I had the TMB switch set to a certain position when pressing a multi-function button, thus I was sometimes not receiving the response I expected. Several times I intended to change the band, but had the TMB set to “T” and resultingly opened the output power setting, or pressed the MOD button only to find that TMB was set to “T” as I toggled A/B VFOs.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

While this was distracting at first, I soon became accustomed to changing the setting, then moving the TMB back to the “M” setting afterward. Now I find I very rarely make a mistake.

On the Argo VI, all of the buttons and knobs are adequately spaced. You could operate this rig outside with lightweight insulated gloves on, should the need arise.

All in all, the ergonomics are excellent on the Argonaut VI.

Performance

Before I begin talking about this little transceiver’s performance, I want to point out its two most obvious shortcomings:

  • The Argonaut VI lacks 12 and 60 meters (ouch!)
  • There is no internal ATU (auto antenna tuner), nor is there an option for one

If those two negatives are deal-breakers for you, I could certainly understand. You might want to consider a basic KX3 with ATU ($1070 unassembled, $1170 assembled) or a K2/10 with ATU ($1280 unassembled), instead.

IMG_6453
The Argo VI has a relatively small footprint on my radio shelf.

But if, like me, you use neither 12 nor 60 meters very often, you may not miss them.  Admittedly, the lack of 12 meters is unfortunate because it’s such an ideal band–when conditions are right–for easy QRP field operation. However, I am very pleased the Argo VI has 160 meters.

An internal ATU–or the option to have one installed later–is certainly a negative for those of us who like a simple Field Day radio set-up. From my point of view, other than my Elecraft KX1, I’ve never had a radio with an internal ATU; I have two portable tuners (the LDG Z11 Pro and Elecraft T1) that work wonders. The way my shack is designed, I have a remote auto-tuner outside at the feed point of my antennas and thus have no tuner in my shack–so if I had an internal ATU, I’d have to turn it off 95% of the time. If your shack is set up similarly, you might not mind not having an ATU.

If you’re concerned about the performance of the Argonaut VI, let me assure you now: you will not be disappointed. Indeed, the receiver in the Argonaut VI must be one of the best I’ve ever heard in any radioespecially in this price class ($1000).  It is truly remarkable.  I’m eager to learn how Rob Sherwood rates the Argonaut VI, but I suspect it will rank among the top few.

IMG_6479
Click to enlarge

What is most impressive in the Argo VI is its incredibly effective variable DSP filtering. I experimented with the variable bandwidth and pass band during crowded CW conditions, and found that each and every time I could zero in on one QSO and block everything else. It’s also highly effective when used with SSB. Based on the reviews I’ve read of the Eagle, this is obviously derived from its DSP architecture and has similar performance characteristics. [Future Argo VI owners, I eagerly welcome A/B comparisons of the Eagle and Argo VI–please comment!]

IMG_6494You’ll be happy with both the Argo’s sensitivity and its ability to reject adjacent signals. Compared with my Elecraft K2/10, the Argo VI’s sensitivity had an edge in every band I tested, and to my ear, the noise floor is lower on the Argo VI as well.  Most noticeably, however, is the Argonaut’s audio fidelity, which is far superior to that of the K2. Whether using headphones or using the built-in top mounted speaker, you will be pleased. The speaker delivers an impressive sound for its size. I tend to hook up external speakers to my smaller transceivers, but in this case I never felt I needed to. With headphones, the audio is even more impressive. I do wish the headphone jack was on the front panel instead of the back, though.

Though I haven’t spent enough time with the KX3 to compare audio fidelity, I imagine the KX3 and Argonaut VI would be a fair contest.

I can say that audio fidelity is the primary reason I continue to turn to Ten-Tec for transceivers and receivers. In my opinion, like Kenwood, Ten-Tec invests more resources into insuring superb audio fidelity–even at the cost (in this case) of uber-low current drain numbers (although the 550 mA drain on receive must be the lowest Ten-Tec has ever produced in a digital transceiver). The Argo VI’s audio is rich, inviting enjoyable listening for hours on end. It would certainly be a great pick for long-haul events like Field Day or 24/48-hour contests.

The back panel of the Ten-Tec Argonaut VI (Click to enlarge)
The back panel of the Ten-Tec Argonaut VI (Click to enlarge)

SSB/CW

But how does she sound on the other end? Immediately after unpacking the Argonaut VI, I caught band openings on 10, 15, 17 and 20 meters. Though I was only running 7 watts at the time (production units run a full 10W) I received great audio reports on SSB and was even  heard through a pile-up on 17M. Though I believe the default settings would have worked well, setting up the mic gain on this rig is also very easy and straightforward.

As for CW, reports have also been very positive. CW ops will be happy to note that the Argonaut VI has Ten-Tec’s silky-smooth QSK. Frankly, I expected nothing less.

Since I don’t operate digital modes often, I did not test the Argo VI in this capacity. I imagine reviews will emerge soon, but I expect them to be positive as several beta testers were impressed.

Summary

When I begin a radio review, I keep a checklist of pros and cons as I discover them to remind myself of my initial discoveries.  Here’s my list from the Argonaut VI:

Pros

  • Excellent top-of-the-line audio fidelity
  • Extremely effective DSP variable bandwidth
  • Silky smooth QSK
  • All mode with optional AM
  • Easily accessible primary controls
  • Uncompromised ham band performance (see con)
  • Quality tuning knob and adaptive tuning rate make for easy band scanning
  •  Simple front face and comfortably spaced buttons/knobs (see con)
  • Undoubtedly the best receiver of any QRP rig produced by Ten-Tec
  • Comprehensive and detailed owner’s manual
  • Made in USA
  • Ten-Tec’s US-based customer support, a major plus over many foreign manufacturers

Cons

  • No 12 nor 60 meters
  • No internal ATU, nor option for one
  • No internal battery nor option
  • Headphone jack on rear panel
  • Not general coverage (see pro)
  • Learning curve when using multi-functions (see pro)
  • Price of $995 is a little steep
  • RX current drain is high when compared with Elecraft K1/KX1/K2/K3 or KX3, or the Yaesu FT-817

To buy, or not to buy…

The Ten-Tec Model 539 Argonaut VI (Click to enlarge)
The Ten-Tec Model 539 Argonaut VI (Click to enlarge)

I really think the Argonaut VI is a streamlined Ten-Tec Eagle, and a very good rig. Its DSP architecture is based on the Eagle’s (in beta, we even used the Eagle software for the frequent firmware updates).

When I ask myself, “Who will buy the Argonaut VI?” I believe the answer is anyone who wants a QRP radio with the performance and interface we’ve come to expect from Ten-Tec.  If you can live without 12 and 60 meters, then you will be buying a rig that does not compromise on performance. The Argonaut VI is not a QRP radio designed for backpacking like the KX1 or KX3, but it would hang with the best in a QRP contest or on Field Day; operators would experience little to no listening fatigue with this smooth rig.

The Argo VI comes factory-assembled, warrantied, and ready to go, right out of the box.  There’s nothing to put together nor configure.

On a side note, I should mention that this is the first time I’ve beta-tested with Ten-Tec; this provided insight into the process of rolling out a new product and just how responsive and open the company is to both frank criticism and design requests. I believe all of the beta-testers would agree. Every concern I reported to Ten-Tec was eventually addressed by version 1.0 of the firmware.  That’s responsiveness I can really appreciate. Ten-Tec’s Software Engineer, John Henry, is nothing short of amazing. I’m not sure when he finds the time to sleep.

I’m happy to have had this little radio in my shack for the past two months. I’ll have to bid it farewell, though:  Ten-Tec has already sold out of their first production run, so my unit will be returned, upgraded with a new board, tested, inspected, and sold as a demo.  Alas, it’s hard to say good-bye.

I guess the proof is in the Christmas pudding:  I have to admit that I now prefer the Argonaut VI even over my trusty Elecraft K2. So, kind readers, if one of you is in the market for a K2/10 with SSB, and 160M, I may be in the market for an Argonaut VI.

It would bring tidings of great joy, indeed.  Happy holidays!

The days of the IRC may be limited

Unless protested, the International Reply Coupon will be phased out in 2013 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

(Source: ARRL)

If the US Postal Service (USPS) gets its way, it will no longer sell International Reply Coupons (IRCs) after January 27, 2013. According to the October 23 edition of the Federal Register, there is not sufficient demand for the USPS to continue offering IRCs to customers; however, per the Universal Postal Union (UPUregulations, the USPS must continue to exchange (redeem) IRCs that have been purchased in foreign countries and presented at USPS facilities. The current Nairobi model is valid through December 31, 2013. Comments on this proposed change will be accepted through November 23, 2012.[…]

Read the full article on the ARRL website.

Readers, I need your voice!

Interested in a good cause?  Many of you may know that besides being a ham, I’m also an avid shortwave radio enthusiast and I run a radio based charity.

At the moment, we’re working hard to stop the Radio Canada International Sackville, New Brunswick, shortwave transmission site from being completely dismantled and taken off the air.

I’ve been communicating with the Canadian press and the Departments of Heritage and Public Safety. It’s difficult–if not impossible–to stop a political process that has already been initiated, but some of us are making an attempt nonetheless because this transmission site is so vital.

So I started a petition–it’s only been two days, but we have already received over 200 signatures from around the globe. Clearly, we’re not the only ones who believe that sacking Sackville is a foolhardy plan, and want Canadian powers-that-be to reconsider.

Here is the petition–take a look at the comments for yourself:
http://chn.ge/TRgSCX

Could you please take a few moments out of your day to sign this petition and have your say? It takes less than a minute. This will automatically email the appropriate Canadian politicians who could, at the very least, put a halt to the destruction of the RCI Sackville site.  Also, please consider sharing this with your QRP and ham radio networks, clubs, and email groups. The more voices, the more signature, the better!

Of course, you don’t have to be Canadian to sign (after all, I’m not), just someone who cares about radio and believes in its role in domestic security and international relations. If you are Canadian, consider writing a letter to Canada’s Heritage Minister, the Hon. James Moore (james.moore@parl.gc.ca), and your Minister of Public Safety, the Hon. Vic Toews, to let them know this requires immediate attention.

Feeling like Don Quixote today?  Join me. Towers up, windmills down!

73,
Thomas
K4SWL