What is it about winter that engages my inner kit-builder–?
I go through this cycle every year: when outdoor temps plummet, I fire up the soldering iron and start building kits that have been sitting on the shelf for the previous three seasons.
I used to think that I built more kits in the winter because I spent more time indoors, but that’s not actually true. Reality is, I probably spend more time outdoors in the winter than I do in the other seasons…save fall, perhaps.
I actually have a QCX+ transceiver kit that a kind reader generously donated to me (thanks again, OM!). I can’t wait to dig into this particular build, but I’m forcing myself to wait.
Until I finish building and installing my Murphy Bench (check out this HRWB podcast episode where we take a deep-dive) I don’t have a dedicated space for a good multi-day transceiver kit. At present, I have to take over the dining room table and as you might imagine, the others in my family aren’t incredibly pleased with a semi-permanent workbench in the middle of the house.
I’m making my Murphy Bench a priority and dangling the QCX+ as a reward for completing the build. Wish me luck!
I’m curious: Do you find that you also do more kit-building during certain seasons? What kits or other projects are on your horizon?Please comment!
I try to start each year by doing a POTA or SOTA activation on New Year’s Day.
POTA actually issues a certificate for completing an activation on New Year’s Day so there are typically loads of activators and hunters working the bands. It’s an ideal time to play radio.
This year, we had a number of family activities on New Year’s Day, but I made a little time to fit in an activation during the late afternoon at my most accessible spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway: the Southern Highland Folk Art Center.
As with my last activation, I suspected I would be operating in the dark, so I brought my LED lantern along for the ride.
Although not intentional, this New Year activation had a lot of new-to-me stuff involved!
New VK3IL Pressure Paddle
The prior evening–on New Year’s Eve–while my wife and daughters were watching a classic movie movie marathon, I used the time to heat up the soldering iron and work through a few kits and projects that had been sitting on my desk.
Quanity of 1: Three conductor wire with a (typically) 3.5mm plug (note that I had one of these in my junk drawer)
Keep in mind: the components are surface-mount. If you’re not used to working with SMD components (ahem…that would be me) I suggest buying a few spares of each in case you lose or damage one or more during the build.
It also helps to cover the finished board in heat shrink not only to protect the board and make it easier to grip, but most importantly (if you’re me) hide your electrically-sound yet unsightly surface mount soldering job.
The build might have taken me 20 minutes.
New FT-817ND Narrow CW Filter
Some time ago, I purchased a second FT-817ND with the idea of doing full-duplex satellite work. I later realized I could be taking the second FT-817ND out to the field more often if I simply had another narrow CW filter installed, so I built one.
This New Year’s Day activation was actually the first time I’d taken this particular FT-817ND and its new narrow filter out to the field!
New Armoloq TPA-817 Pack Frame
Earlier this year, I also decided that I wanted to outfit my 2nd Yaesu FT-817ND with an Armoloq TPA-817 pack frame. The idea was to experiment with building a rapid-deployment field kit around it.
In early November, I happened up a new waterproof case called the Evergreen 56. As with Pelican cases, it’s waterproof and also made in the USA. Like Nanuk cases (that are also waterproof and made in Canada) Evergreen cases have a built-in locking mechanism to keep the latch from accidentally opening during transport.
I thought the price for the Evergreen 56 at $28 US was fair and in-line with the Pelican 1060 and Nanuk 903 which are similar in size. I grabbed one made of a clear material with one radio in mind: my QCX-Mini!
There are a number of color options available for this Evergreen case, but I like the clear polycarbonate one because it makes it so much easier to see what’s inside (for a quick gear check) but also to confirm that no one part of the kit is being pressed too hard inside the case after the lid is sealed.
After receiving the Evergreen 56, I was very pleased with the quality–again, on par with what I would expect from Pelican or Nanuk. It is incredibly solid and the seal is watertight. The Twist Lock Latch (see above) is easy to operate and the case comes with two “keys” for adjusting the inner lock.
The Evergreen case has a soft egg crate-like rubber boot interior as opposed to the pick foam material you’d typically find in a water tight case. The case also has a hammock-like rubbery webbing on the inside of the lid that can be used to organize smaller contents (I knew instantly I’d use this to hold the antenna!).
The QCX-Mini fits in the Evergreen case perfectly–this was no surprise–but I was eager to see if my other station components could also fit. Note that I didn’t buy anything specifically to be used in this case; I used components I already owned. I could minimize the contents even further if I used a smaller battery, antenna, and key. Here are the components of the first version of the QCX-Mini Field Kit: Continue reading Testing a new QCX-Mini Field Kit built in an Evergreen 56 Watertight case→
You’ve no doubt heard me brag about the Emtech ZM-2 ATU in previous field reports. I think it’s an accessory every field operator should have.
The ZM-2 is a very capable manual transmatch/ATU and is also one of the more affordable tuners on the market. It’s available as both a kit and a fully-assembled unit. Both well under $100.
I do believe the “manual” part of the ZM-2 scares off some and it really shouldn’t. We are used to simply pressing a button these days and allowing our automatic ATUs to do all of the matching work for us.
Manual ATUs do require some amount of skill, but truth is, the learning curve is very modest and intuitive.
Manual ATUs require no power source in order to operate–you adjust the L and C values by hand–thus there’s never a worry about the ATU’s battery being depleted. They also are easy to manipulate outside the ham bands because they require no RF in order to read the SWR–you simply make adjustments to the L and C until you hear the noise peak. This is why many shortwave broadcast listeners love the ZM-2 so much. It’ll match most any antenna you hook up to it!
I also argue that everyone should have a portable ATU even if you operate resonant antennas. Think of an ATU as a First Aid Kit for your antenna: if the deployment is less than ideal, or if you damage it in the field, an ATU can help you find an impedance match your radio can live with. ATUs have saved several of my activations.
Mountain Topper MTR-4B V2
I’ve also mentioned that I’ve had an MTR-4B on loan from a very kind and generous reader for most of the year. He was in no particular hurry for me to send it back to him, but I wrote him in early November and said, “I’m doing one more activation with this little rig, then I’m shipping it to its rightful owner!”
He had a request, and it was a good one:
I think it would be a good little twist to the usual YouTube if you paired a random wire with the ZM-2 and the MTR-4B…showing how to tune the ZM-2 with a Mountain Topper…
I really liked this idea, so I made plans to to hit the Blue Ridge Parkway nearby and give it a go.
The first time I tried this in the field, I paired the MTR-4B with one of my Sony amplified speakers because the MTR-4B 1.) has no internal speaker and 2.) has no volume control. During the video, however, I realized that there simply wasn’t enough audio amplification so that the viewer would be able to hear a noise peak as I manually tuned the ATU. I decided to scratch that video and just do the activation on my own. I really wanted to show how the tuning process worked in the video.
I’ve just learned that my buddy Mark (N6MTS) at Halibut Electronics has just kitted up a new batch of his CMCC Test Rigs and is now accepting orders. I know that some of the experimenters in our community might appreciate this brilliant bit of gear that Mark originally designed as a piece of test gear for his own workbench.
I asked Mark to shed a little light on this kit and exactly what it does:
A Common Mode Current Choke, aka a 1:1 Current Balun, is a common (pardon the pun) device in a ham shack. They can be used: at the Antenna feed point to prevent dangerous unbalanced return currents on the outside of the feedline, at the Radio’s antenna port to minimize RF noise picked up on the feedline, on DC or AC power cables and other interconnect cables to minimize RF pick-up in the shack, etc.
Most RF test equipment, such as a (Nano)VNA, measures the Differential Mode of a system, that is, the balanced currents that flow on the INSIDE of a coax cable. This is great for measuring things like: the frequency response of a filter, the complex impedance (or SWR) of an antenna, or the loss of a length of coax.
It cannot measure the Common Mode of a system, that is, the unbalanced current that flows on the OUTSIDE of a coax cable. This means it cannot (directly) measure a Common Mode Current Choke.
The Halibut Electronics Common Mode Current Choke Test Rig converts the Differential Mode signal generated by the VNA into a Common Mode signal, and places it on the outside of the shield of a coax system. This allows the VNA to directly measure how effective the choke is at choking common mode RF currents. Once you can directly measure a device, you can measure the real world effect of changes you make, and optimize the device for your specific use case. As opposed to relying on calculations and predictions of ideal conditions in free space.
The Common Mode Current Choke Test Rig is a kit that requires some assembly, using a soldering iron and Philips head screw driver.
As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve had the pleasure of helping John beta test this radio for the past month. In that time, I’ve gotten to know the radio from the inside out and have even taken it on a few POTA activations. In fact, with John’s permission, I just posted my first TR-45L activation video for Patreon supporters yesterday. The radio was using an early firmware version in that video.
TR-45L Video Tour and Overview
Yesterday, after an early morning appointment, my schedule opened up; a rarity in my world.
I then got the idea to take the TR-45L out to a park, do a full video overview of its features, then put it on the air in a POTA activation.
Hazel loved this idea too.
So I packed the TR-45L, a log book, my throw line, and two 28′ lengths of wire. Hazel jumped in the car before I could invite her.
I’ve used a wide variety of antennas on the TR-45L over the past weeks, but I hadn’t yet performed a park activation only using two lengths of wire and relying on the TR-45L’s optional Z-Match manual antenna tuner. This would make for a great real-life test!
I pushed this video to the front of the line since the TR-45L just hit the market. I wanted to give potential buyers an opportunity to see and hear this radio in real world conditions thinking it might help them with their purchase decision.
I’m currently about 7 weeks behind publishing my activation videos. Much of this has to do with my travel schedule, free time to write up the reports, and availability of bandwidth to do the video uploads (I’ve mentioned that the Internet service at the QTH is almost dial-up speed).
I was able to publish this video within one day using a new (limited bandwidth) 4G mobile hotspot. Patreon supporters have made it possible for me to subscribe to this hotspot service and I am most grateful. Thank you!
So that I can publish this report quickly (this AM), I’m not going to produce a long-format article like I typically do. Instead, this is one of those rare times when the video will have much more information about the radio and the activation than my report. I’ve linked to and embedded the video below.
Many thanks to Jonathan (KN6LFB) who shares the following guest review:
A review of the EGV+ QRP Transceiver Kit
by Jonathan (KN6LFB)
The EGV+ is a QRP CW-only transceiver that covers the 40-, 30-, and 20-meter HAM bands. Designed by Javier Solans, EA3GCY, it is sold in kit form from his website, qrphamradiokits.com.
Javier designed the EGV+ in honor of his friend and co-founder of the EA-QRP Club, Miguel Montilla, EA3EGV. The first page of the instruction manual dedicates the radio to Miguel with this tribute:
This EGV+ transceiver is probably the kit that I have produced with more care and illusion in my life. It is a great honor to name this kit “EGV”, the callsign suffix of the late Miguel Montilla, EA3EGV (SK). With no doubt, this is the kind of kit he liked most. It was my privilege to establish and share with him the first years of the EA-QRP Club. He has always been a referent in my life; when I remember those wonderful years his humbleness, work capacity and generosity are the virtues which shine his image.
How lucky I was to be able to share the path with you, Miguel. Thanks!
Javier Solans, ea3gcy
Frequency Coverage: 40m, 30m, 20m
Power Requirements: 12–14VDC, 1–2A transmit, 0.14–0.25A receive.
RF Output: 5W @ 13.8V
Harmonics Output: -45dBc or better below fundamental
AGC: acts on the receive path according to the received audio.
Audio Output: 250mW, 4-8 ohms.
I purchased my EGV+ kit with the optional enclosure from qrphamradiokits.com. Javier requests that US customers email him using the contact form on his website for the current pricing in USD prior to ordering. At the time of my order (February 2022), the cost with the optional enclosure was $203.37.
The EGV+ is a single large (180x140mm) PCB, with separate modules for the OLED display, processor, and Si-5351 frequency generator. All components are through-hole and placed on the top of the PCB. The kit arrived well packaged and well organized. There were no missing or mislabeled parts in my kit, which is impressive considering the high number of components. There are 53 100nF capacitors alone!
The manual contains detailed lists of the components by value/quantity and individually. One of my favorite features of the manual, and something I wish was more common, is a grid-based layout map of the entire PCB [see above], with the grid position called out in the list of individual components. This greatly speeds assembly and diagnosis as you can find component positions more easily.
“Look at this, Tom! Only the stuff I need and nothing more,” cheerfully noted my good friend and Elmer, Mike (K8RAT). It was Field Day two decades ago, and Mike was gazing at his TEN-TEC Scout. I glanced over, and agreed. “So simple and so effective,” Mike added.
I’ve never forgotten Mike’s sage words. That Scout (Model 555) was about as simple as a then-modern HF transceiver could be: it had a total of three knobs––one for AF gain and IF bandwidth, one for RIT and Mic gain, and an encoder. It also had three mechanical switches on the front: one for power, one for TUNE and NB, and one for CW speed and RIT. It also had an analog SWR/power meter. The Scout used plug-in band modules for each HF band and featured a large segmented bright green LED frequency display that was characteristic of so many TEN-TEC rigs of the day.
And Mike was right. For those of us who appreciate radios with a simple, uncluttered, and an almost utilitarian interface, the Scout was, in vintage parlance, “the bee’s knees.” And that the Scout also performed beautifully was just icing on that cake.
When the Scout first appeared in 1994, embedded menu options and spectrum displays were not yet commonplace among amateur transceivers. Embedded menu items can open the door to near granular level control of your radio’s functionality and features. Then again, if those embedded menus aren’t well thought out, it can lead to awkward operation practices in the field, during a contest, or even during casual operation.
As a radio reviewer, I spend a great deal of time sorting out embedded menu functionality and design. Perhaps it’s for this reason that I so enjoyed reviewing a radio that bucks this trend and reminds me of a time that was simpler, not to mention, easier.
All of his transceiver kits are available at his website WA3RNC.com.
I was first drawn to the TR-35 after reading the opening paragraph of the product description:
“Compact but powerful 4-band, 5-watt CW transceiver kit that uses no tiny push buttons, and without those seemingly endless and hard-to-remember back menus. There is a knob or a switch for every function!”
I considered buying and building the TR-35 kit, but I wanted my eventual review––this one!––to focus on the radio’s functionality and performance. So a factory-assembled and tested unit was right for this purpose, just so that any performance issues wouldn’t be a result of any shortcomings in my kit building skills.
I pushed the last field report and activation video to the front of the line so that I could show how CW message memory keying worked in the TR-35’s updated firmware. It was, in my opinion, a major upgrade!
What follows is my field report from April 1, 2022: my first POTA activation with the Penntek TR-35. This video was made a week or so before I learned that WA3RNC was working on the new firmware.
The (tr)uSDX has been a much-anticipated QRP transceiver for those of us who love playing radio in the field.
What’s not to love? It sports:
Up to 5 watts output power
CW, SSB, FM, and AM modes
A built-in microphone
Five bands: 80, 60, 40, 30, and 20 meters
A super compact and lightweight form factor
An open-source hardware and software design
Super low current consumption in receive
A super low price of roughly $89 US in kit form and $143 US factory assembled (via AliExpress, but there are numerous other group buys and retailers)
Frankly speaking, this sort of feature set in such an affordable package is truly a game-changer. Back when I was first licensed in 1997, I could have never imagined a day when a general coverage QRP transceiver could be purchased for under $150 US. The price is almost unbelievable.
My initial impressions
On Wednesday, March 30, 2022, I took the (tr)uSDX to the field to attempt a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation. I had only taken delivery of the (tr)uSDX about 15 hours beforehand and had only had it powered up for a total of 30 minutes the previous day. Most of that time, in fact, was checking the power output at various voltage settings into a dummy load. I did make one totally random SSB POTA contact shortly after hooking the radio up to my QTH antenna.