Category Archives: Grab And Go

Mark discovers an affordable IP67 rated protective case for the Yaesu FT-891

Many thanks to Mark Hirst who writes:

Thomas,

I got a new FT-891 recently and wanted a protective case for taking it out into the field.

A mixture of internet searches and Amazon algorithms turned up this very affordable case which closely matches the size of the radio, as the enclosed photograph shows.

It uses the familiar pick and pluck foam, although in two layers.

The base layer is a bit thin, so I might put a layer of rigid plastic over it to stop the feet of the radio pushing down to the outer case.

I prioritised the side wall thickness opposite from the carry handle, as the case is designed to sit on its side like a briefcase.

Via Amazon USA ($29.31)

Via Amazon UK (£20.99)

Mark

Wow, Mark! I do love the size of this case and the fact that it fits the FT-891 so perfectly.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about building out a case to hold one of my smaller QRP transceivers (the KX1, KX2, or MTR3B) in the field to be used when it’s raining. Perhaps this has been on my mind because I’ve been enjoying nearly 5 straight days of rain and fog! A case like this would be an affordable solution and I wouldn’t feel terribly bad about drilling through the case to mount antenna, key, mic, and headphone ports.

Thank you again for the tip!

Note that the Amazon affiliate links above support the QRPer at no cost to you. If you’d rather not use these links, simply search Amazon for “Max MAX004S.” Thank you!

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Elecraft KX3 with the AX1 antenna and seeking distant stations

Although I’m a huge fan of wire antennas in the field, since I started using CW during my Parks On The Air (POTA) activations, I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with compromised portable antennas.

Typically, there’s a trade off with field antennas:

High-performance antennas tend to take more time to install. Some of my highest performance antennas are dipoles, doublets, delta loops, and end fed wire antennas. All of them require support from a tree if I want maximum height off the ground. Some (like the dipole) require multiple supports. While I actually enjoy installing wire antennas in trees, it typically takes me at least 10 minutes to install a wire antenna if it only needs one support and one counterpoise.

Compromised or low-profile antennas may lack performance and efficiency, but are often much quicker and easier to deploy.

In my opinion, field operators should keep both types of antennas in their arsenal because sometimes the site itself will dictate which antenna they use. I’ve activated many sites where wire antennas simply aren’t an option.

That was not the case last Tuesday, however.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

On Tuesday, December 29, 2020, I stopped by Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)–one of my favorite local state parks–for a quick, impromptu activation.

I had no less than four antennas in my car that day and Tuttle is the type of site where I can install pretty much anything: they’ve a spacious picnic area with large tables, tall trees, and parking is close by. Tuttle is the perfect place to deploy not only a large wire antenna, but a large radio if you wish since you don’t have to lug it far from the car.

But en route to Tuttle I decided to take a completely different approach. One of the four antennas I had in the car that day was the Elecraft AX1 antenna.

Without a doubt, the AX1 is the most portable antenna I own. It’s so compact, I can carry it in my pocket if I wish.

When I first purchased the AX1, I was very skeptical and assumed it would only work when “the stars aligned”–days with better-than-average propagation and lots of POTA hunters/chasers looking for me.

The first time I used the AX1 in the field, it impressed me (understatement alert).

The second time, same thing.

In all of my AX1 activations, however, I had only operated on the 40 meter band where the antenna’s footprint looked more like a NVIS antenna than a vertical. Meaning, most of my contacts were in neighboring states like Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia (typically, those states are in my 40 meter skip zone).

The reason I hadn’t tried 20 or 17 meters with the AX1 is because I would start an activation on the 40 meter band and accumulate enough contacts to achieve a valid activation. Since I’m often pressed for time, I simply didn’t bother configuring the antenna for the higher bands.

Time for that to change!

The question I wanted answered at Tuttle: could the AX1 antenna work “DX” stations? By DX, I mean POTA DX, so distant states and provinces primarily–not necessarily other countries.

Gear:

On the air

I paired the Elecraft KX3 with the AX1 at Tuttle. This was the first time I’d ever tried this particular transceiver/antenna combo.

After setting up, I started on the 20 meter band and called CQ for a few minutes.

The first two stations I worked were in Texas (KF9RX and K5RX).

The third station (W6LEN) was in California.

California!?!

Honestly, it was/is hard for me to fathom how in the world 10 watts into a tabletop telescoping whip antenna could work a station exactly 2,083 miles (3,352 km)–and three time zones away–from my picnic table. I’m sure W6LEN has a great antenna on the other end, but I bet he would be surprised to learn that my 10 watt signal was being radiated by such a wee antenna.

 

 

I then worked stations in Florida (K2WO), Minnesota (N0UR), and New Hampshire (W2NR) and decided to move to 17 meters.

On 17 meters I worked W2NR in New Hampshire once again.

I should note here that each time you work a station on a different band or with a different mode, it counts as a separate contact in POTA. In other words, my contacts with W2NR on 20 meters and 17 meters counts as two logged contacts toward my overall QSO count. I’m very appreciative of hunters who go out of their way to work me on different bands and modes: those extra contacts help me achieve a valid activation in short order.

I then moved to 40 meters and worked stations from Tennessee, West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan.

Video

Here’s a video of the entire activation. It’s a long video as it starts at set-up and continues until my last contact. There are no edits in this video–it’s a real-time, real-life deal and contains all of my bloopers:

Note that in the video I had the KX3’s volume maxed out so that it could be picked up by my iPhone microphone. The KX3’s wee internal speaker was vibrating the chassis ever so slightly. On the 40 meter band, it resonated enough that it moved the encoder slightly. Next time, I’ll plan to bring a portable external speaker (if you have any suggestions of good ones, let me know).

And here’s a QSOmap of the activation:

Click to enlarge.

Bioenno 3aH LiFePo battery

I should also add that I’m very pleased with my new Bioenno 3aH LiFePo 12V battery. You can see it in the photo above–it’s slim, lightweight, and very compact.

I purchased it during Bioenno’s Black Friday sale. I was a little concerned it might not have enough capacity to carry me through multiple activations–my other LiFePo batteries re 4.5 and 15 aH–but that does not seem to be the case at all! Not only did it provide nearly an hour of intense use on this activation, but it also powered three activations the previous day–all four activations on one charge! Brilliant!

Radio magic

As I mentioned in a previous post, this was one of those activations that reminded me of the magic of low-power radio. It was incredibly fun!

For all of those phone/SSB operators out there, I will eventually see how successful I can be doing a phone-only activation with the AX1 antenna. I’ll plan to make a video of it as well. I’ll need to plan this for a day when I have more time to spend on the air and at a site where I know I’ll have internet access to spot myself to the POTA network.  SSB isn’t quite as effective as CW when operating with a setup this modest. Still–it can be done! It just requires a little more patience. Please let me know if this sort of thing would interest you.

Until then, Happy New Year and 73s to everyone!

Cheers,

Thomas (K4SWL)

The Elecraft KX1: Reunited and it feels so good.

The Elecraft KX1

A few weeks ago, I published a post about radios I’ve regretted selling or giving away.

Number one on that list was the Elecraft KX1.

Within a couple hours of posting that article, I had already purchased a KX1 I found on the QTH.com classifieds. It was, by any definition, an impulse purchase.

The seller, who lives about 2 hours from my QTH, described his KX1 as the full package: a complete 3 band (40/30/20M) KX1 with all of the items needed to get on the air (save batteries) in a Pelican 1060 Micro Case.

The KX1 I owned in the past was a four bander (80/40/30/20M) and I already double checked to make sure Elecraft still had a few of their 80/30 module kits available (they do!).  I do operate 80M in the field on occasion, but I really wanted the 80/30 module to get full use of the expanded HF receiver range which allows me to zero-beat broadcast stations and do a little SWLing while in the field.

The seller shipped the radio that same afternoon and I purchased it for $300 (plus shipping) based purely on his good word.

The KX1 package

I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous: I hadn’t asked all of the typical questions about dents/dings, if it smelled of cigarette smoke, and hadn’t even asked for photos. I just had a feeling it would all be good (but please, never follow my example here–I was drunk with excitement).

Here’s the photo I took after removing the Pelican case from the shipping box and opening it for the first time:

My jaw dropped.

The seller was right: everything I needed (and more!) was in the Pelican case with the KX1. Not only that, everything was labeled. An indication that the previous owner took pride in this little radio.

I don’t think the seller actually put this kit together. He bought it this way two years ago and I don’t think he ever even put it on the air based on his note to me. He sold the KX1 because he wasn’t using it.

I don’t know who the original owner was, but they did a fabulous job not only putting this field kit together, but also soldering/building the KX1. I hope the original owner reads this article sometime and steps forward.

You might note in the photo that there’s even a quick reference sheet, Morse Code reference sheet and QRP calling frequencies list attached to the Pelican’s lid inside. How clever!

I plan to replace the Morse Code sheet with a list of POTA and SOTA park/summit references and re-print the QRP calling frequencies sheet. But other than that, I’m leaving it all as-is. This might be the only time I’ve ever purchased a “package” transceiver and not modified it in some significant way.

Speaking of modifying: that 80/30 meter module? Glad I didn’t purchase one.

After putting the KX1 on a dummy load, I checked each band for output power. Band changes are made on the KX1 by pressing the “Band” button which cycles through the bands one-way. It started on 40 meters, then on to 30 meters, and 20 meters. All tested fine. Then I pressed the band button to return to 40 meters and the KX1 dived down to the 80 meter band!

Turns out, this is a four band KX1! Woo hoo! That saved me from having to purchase the $90 30/80M kit (although admittedly, I was looking forward to building it).

Photos

The only issue with the KX1 was that its paddles would only send “dit dah” from either side. I was able to fix this, though, by disassembling the paddles and fixing a short.

Although I’m currently in the process of testing the Icom IC-705, I’ve taken the KX1 along on a number of my park adventures and switched it out during band changes.

Indeed, my first two contacts were made using some nearly-depleted AA rechargeables on 30 meters: I worked a station in Iowa and one in Kansas with perhaps 1.5 watts of output power.

I’m super pleased to have the KX1 back in my field radio arsenal.

I name radios I plan to keep for the long-haul, so I dubbed this little KX1 “Ruby” after one of my favorite actresses, Barbara Stanwyck.

Look for Ruby and me on the air at a park or summit near you!

Icom Introduces the IC-705 portable QRP transceiver

Note: this is a cross-post from our other radio blog, the SWLing Post.

This weekend at Tokyo’s Ham Fair 2019, Icom announced an innovative transceiver to their line-up: the Icom IC-705 QRP transceiver.

The IC-705 introduces several industry firsts for a backpack portable radio:

  • It uses the same BP-272 Li-ion Battery pack as the ID-51 and ID-31 series D-Star handy talkies. To my knowledge, this is the only HF transceiver that uses battery packs that can be swapped so easily in the field–like one would swap an HT battery pack
  • It has a general coverage receiver that spans a whopping 0.5 to 148 MHz
  • It sports a full color, touch screen with spectrum and waterfall displays
  • It includes the D-Star digital voice mode
  • A GPS receiver
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • A MicroSD card slot for memory storage, screen captures and recordings

All of this appears to be included, not add-on options.

The only IC-705 omission, in my opinion, is an internal ATU (antenna tuner). Something I would have expected, but not a deal-breaker for those of us who could really benefit from the amount of features this radio offers.

Side and back panel view noting ports and connections.

There is no word yet on pricing or availability, but you can count on us to post these details once they’re available. If you would like to follow updates, bookmark the tag: IC-705

We will also review on the Icom IC-705 as soon as it’s available.

Video from Amateur Logic/Ham College

Ray Novak (N9JA) with Icom America did a live video interview with Amateur Logic/Ham College TV yesterday. The video includes a full announcement in English from the Icom Booth:

Click here to view on YouTube.

IC-705 Pre-Release brochure

Many thanks to Ray Novak for snapping a few photos of the pre-release brochure:

Update: click here to download the full IC-705 brochure. Hat tip to Dave Zantow!

A surprise from one of the “Big Three”

The “Big Three” transceiver manufactures–Icom, Yaesu and Kenwood–have not shown a lot of interest in backpackable QRP radios over the past two decades.

By “backpackable” I mean QRP transceivers specifically designed for portable use in the field–radios that typically have built-in battery options, internal ATUs, and designed to be lightweight shack-in-a-box units.

Yaesu introduced the FT-817 almost twenty years ago and it lives on today (with modest upgrades) as the FT-818. Kenwood has no portable/backpackable HF QRP radio at this point.

I bet the IC-705 is being introduced today because Icom sees a strong market among field-portable operators who enjoy travel and outdoor radio activities like SOTA (Summits On The Air) and POTA (Parks On The Air).  In addition, many ham radio operators live in neighborhoods that are either plagued with radio interference (RFI) or don’t allow antennas to be installed outdoors. Portable radios liberate ham radio ops from their shacks and allow them to set up a station far away from noise or home owner’s associations.

Looking forward…

Again, I’ll be in touch with Icom about the IC-705 and will share updates here when they’re available. I’m looking forward to evaluation this rig when it hits the market!


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Scott’s Elecraft KX3 Go-Box

[Note: this article was originally posted on my shortwave radio blog, The SWLing Post.]

Many thanks to Scott (AK5SD) who shares the following photos and bill of materials for his custom Elecraft KX3 go-box:


IMG_0531 IMG_0534

IMG_0532 IMG_0535 IMG_0537 IMG_0536

Bill of materials

The panel was custom laser cut by Front Panel Express. I have the CAD
file and I’m willing to share it with anyone who wants to reproduce my effort.

Amazon.com
Case B&W Type 1000 Outdoor Case with SI Foam
You won’t use the foam, so you can buy the version without it if you can find it cheaper.

Battery Anker Astro Pro2 20000mAh Multi-Voltage (5V 12V 16V 19V)
Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank
Avoid look alike batteries and the next generation model from Anker. The newer Anker
battery is only capable of delivering 1.5A from the 12V supply. Two look alike batteries
I tried did not have the auto-off feature that the Anker does.

Vetco.net
ACC2 and I/Q Jacks 2 x 2.5mm Stereo Jack Panel Mount (PH-666J-B)
Phone, Key, and ACC1 3 x 3.5mm Stereo Jack Panel Mount (High Quality) (PH-504KB)
Mic Jack 1 x 3.5mm 4 Conductor Jack Panel Mount (PH-70-088B)
12V IN and CHG IN 2 x 2.1mm DC Power Panel Mount Jack (PH-2112)
12V OUT 1 x 2.5mm DC Power Panel Mount Jack (PH-2512)

You also need plugs and wire for interconnects. I bought some 2.5mm (CES-11-5502)
and 3.5mm (PH-44-468 for stereo, PH-44-470 for 4-conductor) audio cables with right
angle plugs and just cut them to use for the signal lines going to the KX3. I did the same
thing for the 2.5mm (PH-TC250) and 2.1mm (PH-TC210) power cables. A couple of
caveats are in order. The Phone, Key, and ACC1 interconnects require low profile
right angle connectors. The cables I listed above won’t work. Vetco part number
VUPN10338 will work. The power cables I’ve listed above use 24 gauge wire. This
is a little light, but the runs are small so I think it is OK. You can use higher gauge
cables if you can find a source.

USBfirewire.com
USB OUT USB 2.0 Right Angle Extension Cable (RR-AAR04P-20G)

Digikey.com
L Brackets 8 x Bracket Rt Ang Mount 4-40 Steel (612K-ND)
These L brackets are used to mount the KX3 to the panel and the panel to the case.
For mounting the KX3, I use a little piece of stick on felt on the bracket to protect the
KX3’s cabinet from damage. Replace the KX3’s screws with #4-40 Thread Size, 1/4”
Length Steel Pan Head Machine Screw, Black Oxide Finish (see below). For the panel
mounting, use #6-32 Thread Size, 3/16” Length self tapping sheet metal screw. You
may need to cut the tip off in order to not puncture the outside of the case.

RG316 BNC Male Angle to BNC Female SM Bulkhead Coaxial RF Pigtail Cable (6”)
This is not the original interconnect I used for connecting the KX3’s antenna output to
the panel. However, I think it is a better option for new designs. The caveat is that you
will need to verify the hole in the panel matches the bulkhead connector on this cable.
There will be a little loop in the cable when you are done, but that is fine.

Micrfasteners.com
Screws for Sound Card 2 x FMSP2510 – M 2.5 x .45 x 10mm
Screws for KX3 Bracket Mount 4 x MSPPK0404 – 4-40 x 1/4
Screws for Countersunk Panel Holes 8 x FMPPK0403 – 4-40 x 3/16
Screws for USB Connector *** 2 x FMPPK0406 – 4-40 x 3/8

I’m pretty sure these are the right length for the USB connector. I am doing it from memory.

Amazon.com or eBay.com
Soundmatters foxL DASH A Wireless Bluetooth Soundbar (OPTIONAL)

Sonoma Wire Works GJ2USB GuitarJack 2 USB Portable Audio Interface (OPTIONAL)
(Make sure you get the USB model, not the 30-pin model.)

This is optional if you want a built-in sound card interface for a waterfall display using iSDR. Make sure to eliminate the holes in the upper left corner of the panel if you are not installing. You will also need 2.5mm x 10mm screws to mount this to the bottom of the panel (see below).

bhi Compact In-Line Noise Eliminating Module (OPTIONAL)

In my opinion, the KX3’s noise reduction is totally ineffective for SSB communications. This external noise reducing DSP is one solution, albeit an expensive one, to that problem. It is only for SSB, not CW or digital modes. It is also available from GAP Antenna Products.

IMG_0530


Scott: you have done a beautiful job here and have spared no expense to make a wonderfully-engineered and rugged go-box. No doubt, you’re ready to take your KX3 to the field and enjoy world-class performance on a moment’s notice. 

Though I’ve never used them personally, I’ve noticed others who have taken advantage of the Front Panel Express engraving service–certainly makes for a polished and professional front panel.

Again, many thanks for not only sharing your photos, but also your bill of materials which will make it much easier for others to draw inspiration from your design!

AK5SD_QSL_Card

Speaking of designs, when I looked up Scott on QRZ.com, I noticed that he also sports a QSL card (above) designed by my good friend, Jeff Murray (K1NSS). Obviously, Scott is a man with good taste!

Adam’s Yaesu FT-817ND Go Kit

Adam (KJ6HOT) writes:

“Just wanted to pass on a link to a few videos I put
together in case you’d like to share them, especially the Yaesu
FT-817ND kit I put together.”

Adam has also posted some SOTA activation videos where he uses his go kit (click here to watch).  I’m amazed that Adam manages to fit so much in that small box. Certainly a handy kit for hiking to a SOTA activation!

Thanks for sharing, Adam! I’ll add this link to our Going Portable page. If you have a portable set-up you would like to share, please contact me.

A Grocery Store Find — a Portable QRP Station Bag!

QRP Bag -- click to enlarge

I found an almost perfect bag for carrying a small QRP transceiver, simple antenna, and accessories yesterday in our local Aldi grocery store. The bag (photo) is manufactured by “Adventure Essentials”, is described as an insulated lunch bag, is available in several color-schemes, and cost all of $3.99 plus sales tax. I purchased the grey-and-black version, product number 41991. The bag looks to be very rugged, is covered by a two-year warranty, and the tag even includes a toll-free telephone number for customer service.

QRP Bag -- click to enlarge

As can be seen in the photos, the bag is almost ideally sized for carrying any of the current crop of trail-friendly-radios such as the Elecraft KX1 or KX3, the Ten-Tec 40×0 two-band or 4040 four-band rigs, the Youkits HB-1A three-band or HB-1B four-band rigs, or the MFJ 92xx single-band rigs.

If I didn’t already have a Pelican Case for my KX1 Mini Travel Kit, I could probably be very happy carrying the station in this insulated lunch bag!

Standard disclaimer: I have no relationship with Aldi other than being a satisfied customer.

An External Battery for the KX1

NOTE: I am embarrassed to admit that I made a significant error in my original measurement methodology and the numbers originally listed below were inaccurate. I’ve redone all the measurements and the text and tables below reflect the corrected measurements. *

Your host, K4SWL, asked me to share my experiences in trying to find a small, lightweight, battery pack for use with my field-portable QRP station. While I’m looking for a battery pack specifically for my Elecraft KX1, what I’m learning should be useful for users of any low-current QRP transceiver.

original 10-cell battery-holder -- click to enlargeCurrently, I’m experimenting with a pair of ten-cell AA battery-holders, one of unknown provenance (photo) and a new, more rugged one from Batteries America (p/n 10AAT, photo). When filled with ten AA NiMH cells, the resulting battery-packs provide about 14v at full-charge. At the 2012 Flight of the Bumblebees, my KX1 generated an indicated 2.6w on 20m and 4w on 40m while being powered by one of these packs; the nearly four hours of low-stress operating during this event did not discharge this pack of 2,000mAh cells very deeply. The use of two AA dummy-cells will also allow the use of eight lithium primary or alkaline cells in an emergency.

new 10-cell battery-holder -- click to enlargeI became concerned about using this style of spring-contact battery-holder when I found an article (link) by Phil Salas, AD5X, in which he reported that this sort of battery-holder is likely to display significant voltage drop under load.

I tested my original battery-holder with ten 2,000mAh NiMH cells and my KX1 transmitting into a dummy load. In addition to measuring whole-pack voltage-drop, I measured the voltage-drop of each of the individual 2,000mAh cells as I transmitted into the dummy load on 20m.

Original Battery-Holder / 2,000mAh cells
Band ΔVpack ΣΔVindiv.
20m 0.76v 0.52v
30m 0.79v
40m 0.75v
80m 0.70v

The sum of these individual drops was 0.52v, so I’m losing 0.24v in the spring-contacts and/or battery-holder’s “transistor battery” output connector.

After replacing the original nylon connector with a pair of Anderson Powerpoles, I tested the same 2,000mAh NiMH cells in the new, more rugged battery-holder, this time only on 20m:

New Battery-Holder / 2,000mAh cells
Band ΔVpack ΣΔVindiv.
20m 0.73v 0.53v

I’m losing about 0.20v in the battery-holder’s spring-terminals, slightly less than with the older battery-holder.

The 0.20v ~ 0.24v drop from the spring-terminals doesn’t seem excessive to me and the difference in these measurements between the two battery-holders is probably not significant. I am more concerned by the 0.53v ~ 0.54v voltage-drop I measured in the individual cells. It is likely that these older 2,000mAh cells, which have been cycled many times, are exhibiting greater voltage-drop than new cells would. To test this theory, I purchased new 2,100mAh cells to measure.

I measured the new cells as above, again on 20m into a dummy load, and found that with each of the battery-holders, the sum of the individual cell voltage-drops was 0.22v, so my speculation appears to have been correct–the new cells do have lower voltage drop under load than the old cells do.

Orignal Battery-Holder, 2,100mAh cells
Band ΔVpack ΣΔVindiv.
20m 0.48v 0.22v
New Battery-Holder, 2,100mAh cells
Band ΔVpack ΣΔVindiv.
20m 0.47v 0.22v

The new 2,100mAh NiMH cells are marketed by Polaroid and cost $6 per four-pack at Big Lots; the least expensive AA NiMH cells available at Batteries America, 2,500mAh Sanyo cells, cost $3 each at the time of this experiment. I don’t know if the Polaroid cells will last for as many cycles as the probably-higher-quality Sanyo cells would but trying the significantly less expensive Polaroid cells seemed like a a good gamble.

As indicated above, the new battery-holder (Battery American p/n 10AAT) is more rugged than my original battery-holder; it holds the AA cells more securely and and doesn’t use a “transistor battery” connector to connect to the load. I replaced the original nylon connector with a pair of Anderson Powerpoles. This battery-holder will be my preferred battery-holder for field operations with the KX1.

In his article (link), Phil Salas, AD5X, recommends foregoing battery-holders in favor of soldered/welded battery packs but I will continue to experiment with battery-holders. I prefer to charge my NiMH cells individually, using an intelligent MAHA charger, rather than charging an entire pack. In addition, my KX1 draws significantly less current on transmit than Phil’s IC-703 does so the the IxR losses I’ll experience will be less significant than that which Phil experienced.

Visit my website to learn more about my QRP operations or to learn more about my KX1 Mini Travel Kit.

* What had I done wrong? I discovered when testing my new battery-holder that the previous measurements of the old and new NiMH cells in the original battery-holder had been made with the KX1 transmitting into a 50Ω dummy load with the KX1 autotuner configured in tune mode instead of in bypass mode; because the KXAT1 autotuner doesn’t sense a mismatch and automatically tune, this meant that transmitter current–and the measured IxR voltage losses–might be also be significantly different than with the KX1 transmitting into a matched load. Comparisons of my original numbers to measurements made later of the new battery-holder wouldn’t be meaningful, so I had to do all the measurements again.

Thoughts on the Elecraft KX1 and comparing with the Ten-Tec HB1B

My Elecraft KX1

I’ve been meaning to write a post about my Elecraft KX1, because, of all of the rigs I own, it’s the most-often-used, thus the clear favorite in my stable. But:  this morning, I read John Harper’s (AE5X) excellent assessment of the Elecraft KX1 vs. the Ten-Tec HB1B. He provides some significant numbers to consider when comparing these two lightweight CW-only QRP rigs, and makes a great case for elevating the newcomer HB1B over the KX1–at least, for some readers.

I’ve had my Elecraft KX1 for over three years, and, in all honesty, absolutely love it.  But, let’s face it: if I didn’t have one, if I had never touched nor used one, I would be seriously tempted by the HB1B–for its price, for the fact that Ten-Tec sells it (I’m a long-time Sevierville radio fan), and for the fact that it’s not a kit. Oh, yeah:  and because it works very well.

However, having used the KX1 for so long, I know that the HB1B (at least in its current state) could not replace my KX1. But before I explain why, I would like to make some strong points in favor of the HB1B.

YouKits HB1B Four Band QRP Transceiver
The Ten-Tec HB1B

The Ten-Tec HB1B

At least on paper, the HB1B has better filtering, a better display, and generally speaking, more bells and whistles than the KX1. Best of all, it comes fully assembled.

Why is this last point an advantage–? For a number of talented QRPers reading this, building the kit is the best part!  I know, I get it…And to tell the truth, I want to be like you kit-builders out there!  But I am only now getting into kit building, and building my confidence in kit-building.  I’m sure there are many others out there like me. For these QRPers, please note: the KX1 is not a beginner’s kit. I did not build mine. When I bought my KX1, I purchased it from a KX1 beta tester and professional engineer. The soldering and overall build quality are top-shelf.

Moreover, no matter how great an Elecraft radio is, it’s only as good as the person who built it. If the builder does sloppy work, your rig’s longevity and performance may suffer. Since you’ll likely be taking the KX1 with you everywhere, and it’ll experience a fair amount of movement (aka, hard knocks), this is especially important.

If, like me, you’re not prepared to take on building a KX1, fear not!–you should simply purchase from someone who knows their stuff: Elecraft can suggest some builders (including the amazing Don Wilhelm, W3FPR) or you can simply purchased a used KX1 fully-assembled. Or, you can simply purchase the fully-assembled HB1B.

So, why do I not find the HB1B enticing?

Yes, the Ten-Tec HB1B comes ready to roll. Still, could it replace my KX1?  I don’t think so. Two HB1B deal-breakers for me:

  1. As AE5X mentions, there is no internal antenna tuner option.
  2. There is no way (at least, on this version) to attach paddles directly to the rig.

Portability + Simplicity = QRP Fun

Why are these features so important? Well, my KX1 has an ATU, four bands, and an attachable paddle. One of my favorite things to do with my KX1 is, while traveling, to pull it out of its Pelican case, toss a 28′ wire into a tree, and lay a ground wire. As I stand there, I can hold the KX1, tune the antenna (easily 40M and up, with the internal ATU) and work stations my favorite way: while standing up.  I can also (if I like) sit for a moment, then jump up again, walk a bit, and generally move freely–just not possible with sit-on-a-table units.

My Elecraft KX1 fits nicely inside the Pelican 1060 case. There's even room to fit an external Whiterock paddle.

Additionally, everything I need fits inside a Pelican 1060 case. The Kx1 itself is an all-in-one unit–nothing external to attach, unless I want to. Oh, and I can also operate the KX1 with gloves on in below-zero conditions.

Anywhere QRP

Why would I want to operate standing up? Fact is, where I go, I’m only operating for thirty minutes or so, and in places where there’s no convenient spot to settle down or get too comfortable. In many cases, I’m operating on a whim–when I can grab a few minutes in a busy itinerary, or on a hike or day trip. With the Kx1, this is remarkably easy to do. I can have my KX1 on the air in four minutes or less, in most cases–and that includes the time to hang a wire–!  Packing up is also quick. This kind of operation feels as free as flying a kite.  Spontaneity at its best.

Part of that functional synergy comes from the fact that there are no additional components to hook up (i.e., no external tuner, external paddles). With the HB1B, I would be forced to either build a set-up, so that I could stand and hold the transceiver, tuner and paddles, or I’d have to…sit down.

Wayne’s inspiration for the KX1

Thinking back to a Dayton Hamvention several years ago, I seemed to remember that Wayne Burdick, N6KR (co-founder of Elecraft) was inspired by just this sort of off-the-cuff operation. To confirm this, I asked Wayne, just this morning, if I was on track with that. He offered this very thorough (and insightful) response:

I had been designing portable QRP gear for my own use for many years, including the “Safari 4″ (documented in three issues of QEX magazine in 1990). The Safari-4 was 3x5x7”, but it was fully self-contained, including an attached keyer paddle, internal 1-Ahr gel cell and manual antenna tuner, wattmeter, SWR bridge, and 4-band coverage. But it was too large for backpacking. Later, I designed some far smaller rigs with very good performance for NorCal and Wilderness Radio, including the SST, NC40A, and Sierra.

Then I started Elecraft with Eric, WA6HHQ. After we had success with the K2 and K1, I pitched the idea of a smaller version of the Safari-4 to Eric.

There were two inspirations for this. Back in the 70s, W7ZOI (Wes) created his “Mountaineer”, which was a crystal-controlled 40-m QRP rig that was very simple to use, very small, and self-contained, in that battery and paddles were built in. But it had no VFO, no ATU, a single band, and no frills. Taking what we’d learned in the K2 and K1 designs, I figured we could pack a great radio into this same size using updated technology. It had to cover at least 40 and 20 meters, and the idea was to use latching relays to minimize current drain and simplify band switching. We also used a DDS chip for the VFO–not quite as pure as crystal control, but just as stable, and totally adequate for a portable radio.

The other inspiration was my idea for an attached, but easily removable and mechanically reversible, keyer paddle. This became the KXPD1. I literally woke up at 5 AM with this idea. I realized immediately that this was the enabling technology for a hand-held radio, and I got busy with the design.

Having spent time camping and hiking with other rigs, I also knew that the ATU had to be built in. This allows the use of ad-hoc, wire-in-a-tree antennas, which is the secret to quick setup. It was a challenge creating an ATU that’s just 1 x 5″, but it worked. We spent weeks refining the rig and the ATU to work with typical field antennas, adjusting the component values to cover 40 and 20 meters. When we added the 30-m module, we found that it handled this well, too.

Most of my KX1 operation involves not even sitting down. I literally stop on the trail at a scenic overlook, pull the daypack around and extract the rig, toss a wire into one or two trees, and I’m on the air. I love this kind of operation. I’ve gone so far as to operate while sitting in a tree (an “inverted vertical”–a dangling wire–works amazingly well). Having to futz with add-ons can be fun, too, but it discourages “instant” operation. I like to quote Ade Weiss, W0RSP,  from his book The Joy of QRP: “If there is a place, and you can get to it, you must operate from there.”

You can’t overlook performance and features, either. The KX1 is stable in all operating environments and draws only about 35 mA. It includes a variable-passband crystal filter that can be widened out to copy AM and SSB signals, and can even do cross-mode (transmitting in CW while receiving LSB or USB). It has a full set of frequency memories and CW message buffers. For blind hams (or when you’re too tired to keep your eyes open), the KX1 has a 100% Morse-audio-feedback system. I tested this firmware with my eyes closed, and the result was very well-received by the blind amateur community.

Thanks for the history, and your inspiration, Wayne. Love it!

The KX1's Tuning, RF, AF and Filter knobs are very easy to operate--even with gloves on!

When you hold and operate the KX1, this legacy is all too apparent. Thoroughly thought through–down to a built-in LED lamp for logging–and, without a doubt, the original inspiration for several radios that followed: the HB1B, the MFJ 92XX series, and the Hendricks PFR3.

My guess is that the next generation of HB1B will have some of these clever features.

In the meantime, if you’re in the market for an inexpensive, CW-only, very portable QRP rig, and you’ve no plans to embark upon impromptu operation, the HB1B could be your rig. Based on my experience with Ten-Tec, if they sell it, they’ll give you excellent customer service. That is the beauty of these two choices, both Elecraft and Ten-Tec are excellent companies to do business with.

I only think I’d give up my KX1 for…the new KX3, and I’m not even convinced I’d do that, yet. The KX1 has become my little travel buddy. Time will tell, though. Check back here–if I’m wooed by another QRP radio, I may eat my words.

By the way, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the inspiration to finally write down my thoughts on the KX1 came from John Harper (AE5X) who has an excellent QRP blog that you should certainly add to your favorites!  And thanks, again, to Wayne, both for his response, and for his original ideas that continue to make QRP so liberating.