Category Archives: Kits

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.

41dB Step RF Attenuator Kit

Hendricks QRP Kits has just added a new 41dB step RF attenuator kit to their product line. Read Doug Hendricks announcement, via QRP-L, below:

We have added another test equipment kit to the lineup at Hendricks QRP
Kits. Ken LoCasale has used the step attenuator circuit in the ARRL
Handbook as the basis of a 41dB step attenuator. The kit comes in a custom
case, and is complete with all parts needed to finish, including a
commercial quality double sided, solder masked and silk screened pc board.
The attenuator uses a pi net work of 2W resistors, and will handle 5 W.
Attenuators are great to use to work low power, and are the easiest way to
make very low power contacts. Check out the manual at www.qrpkits.com.
Kits are in stock and ready to ship. The price is $50 plus shipping and
handling. Thanks, Doug

Click here for Hendricks QRP Kits.

Ken’s PCB holder makes for a great weekend project

Thanks, Ken (WA4MNT), for bringing this very cool and simple project to our attention.

Click here to download instructions–parts are available from Ken for $23, or components can be home-brewed (I can imagine the plastic components can be replaced with wood).

Check out some of Ken’s other projects at www.qrpbuilder.com.

 

Black Friday at Hendricks QRP Kits: Free domestic and international shipping

Wow–a Black Friday event I can certainly get my head around!

From Doug Hendricks via QRP-L:

Friday is known as “Black Friday” because most of the stores have big sales to attract the shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving. I thought about this and decided to do a QRP version. Here is the announcement.

Hendricks QRP Kits will have a Black Friday Sale from 12:01 AM Thursday to Midnight Friday (0801 GMT to 0800 GMT). During this sale, if your order shipped to a US address is $50 or more, you will get free shipping. And, if your order shipped to a DX address is $150 or more, your shipping will be free. All kits are included, nothing is held back. I have all kits in stock and ready to ship. Kits will ship starting Monday, Nov. 28th. When you place your order via paypal, I will refund your postage. If you order via US mail, the order needs to be postmarked Friday, Nov. 25th. Please do not include shipping and handling if you are ordering via mail. I have never had a Black Friday sale, but thought it might be fun to do. This is your opportunity to “Save the Shipping” on your Christmas orders. 72,
Doug

Check out what’s available at Hendricks QRP Kits!

Photos and more details of the Elecraft KX3 from Dayton Hamvention

Don Wilhelm (W3FPR), everyone's favorite Elecrafter, holds one of the three KX3 prototypes.

Wow.

I got a chance to play with one of the two KX3 protoypes Elecraft had on display at the Dayton Hamvention.

I mean, wow!

Don (W3FPR) gave me a  tour of this amazing rig. It’s small,  feature-packed and as ergonomic as all of the machines that come out of Aptos. It is slightly larger than the KX1 in every dimension. Still very easy to hold (as you can see in the photo to the right). Not pictured are the mini CW paddles (not based on the current KX1–much better) and a small attachable microphone. I’ll try to photo them tomorrow and post.

I spoke with Elecraft owner/founder Wayne Burdick (N6KR) at length as well.  He said that the KX3 has been in the works for years. It’s built on the ideas of Elecraft and many of its owners, he said they’ve simply been waiting for technology to catch-up with their vision.

I actually think this could be a major game changer in the ham radio world. Think about it…a portable transceiver with the receive capabilities of the world-class K3, all band, general coverage, firmware upgradable, with many options including a full-fledged automatic antenna tuner, 100 Watt amp and many optional modules.  Did I mention it’s ultra portable? Gosh!

Oh yeah, Wayne told me it will be sold for under $800.

I must have one.

More photos:

NorCal 2N2/XX transceiver kits update

Over half of the 2N2/XX transceiver kits have been sold. You’ll recall (see previous post) that these kits were first offered at Pacificon and have been sold online since then. If you are interested in building one of these kits, you should not wait to make a purchase. Go to NorCal’s website for details.

UPDATE — 12/01/2008

Please read the update below from Doug Hendricks:

Due to problems with the stability of the VFO in the 2N2 kits, we hav suspended shipping until the problem is resolved and we can figure out which parts to put in the remaining kits, and which parts to send out to those we have already shipped. Please bear with us. We will get it right. Also, please, please, please do not send us emails asking where your order is. Every order is safe, and will be filled, we just need time to take care of the problem that we found. Emails to me won’t help, nor will an email to James or Kathy or Dean or Jim K. Thank you for your understanding. 72, Doug, KI6DS

UPDATE – 12/16/08

Hendricks has started shipments again and fixed the VFO problem.  Read message posted to QRP-l below:

Finally there is some good news to report!!  James tells me that shipping
has resumed on the 2N2xx kits for those that were held up while Jim Kortge
solved the problems in the VFO.  Jim did a tremendous amount of work and
we now have the parts to fix the problem.  The kits we are shipping now
have the correct parts in them, and those parts are being mailed to all
who previously purchased the kits.  Please, please do not email and ask us
where your kit is or when it will be shipped.  We are shipping as fast as
possible, and hope to have all kits shipped before the 1st of the year
that have been ordered.  (Don’t you just love my sentence structure??  My
English teacher is rolling over in her grave.)

We will be accepting new orders sometime in January and it will be
announced here.  James, Kathy, Jim K., Dean and Ron are working like crazy
to get your kit to you.  Thank you for your patience and understanding.
Doug, KI6DS

New Hendricks Dual Band HF Transceiver Kit Announced

Hendricks QRP Kits has announced that they will have a prototype of a new CW transceiver kit, designed by Steve Weber (KD1JV), at their Pacificon booth this year. Features of this transceiver include:

  • Dual Band – you get to pick 2 bands (anything from 160M-15M) when you order
  • Built-in keyer
  • Digital readout
  • Tuning knob
  • DDS VFO
  • A custom powder coated and punched case with a bright red top and an antique white base

Hendricks has not announced a price yet, but they plan to keep it very competitive. Their goal is to have the kits in production in time for Christmas. What a great stocking stuffer!

I will post more information on QRPer as it becomes available.

NorCal offering limited run of 2N2/XX transceivers

The NorCal QRP club is offering a limited run of their PN2222 based analog transceivers. These transceivers are based on 10 years of prior K8IQY 2N2 designs–an evolution originating from a design contest, Wayne Burdick N6KR, one of the co-founders of Elecraft, proposed for the 1998 Dayton convention.

A total of 500 kits are available – 200 on 20-meters, 100 on 30-meters, and 200 on 40-meters. They are available at $125 each (or $225/two, and $300/three). Only 5 kits per order are available.

These kits will be available for order on October 14th.

–UPDATE 10-13-08 —

Doug Hendricks posted a 2N2/XX update on QRP-l–this includes significant changes to availability. Here’s his message:

Guys, in our excitement at getting the NorCal 2N2xx CW transceiver kits
out we didn’t think things through very well. Here is the problem. This
coming weekend is Pacificon, and all of us will be totally tied up on
Thursday, Friday and Saturday and part of Sunday. The number of kits
available is only 200 on 40 Meters, 200 on 20 Meters, and 100 on 30 Meters
and we will have to monitor sales very closely or there could be a huge
problem. We don’t want to accept orders and not have kits to ship because
they are sold out. We just don’t have anyone available to monitor the
orders.

So this is what we are going to do. We will take one half of the kits to
Pacificon to sell in our booth. We will save one half of the kits for
“Internet” sales, so there will be kits for guys who can’t get to
Pacificon. I really doubt if we will sell 250 kits at Pacificon, but I
might be wrong. Even if we do, there will still be kits for those of you
who can’t make it.

The window for orders will now be open at 7 AM on Weds. Oct. 21st. I
apologize for any inconvenience that this has caused, but it is the best
solution that we can come up with.

Hope to see you at Pacificon. We have a great lineup of speakers and lots
of fun planned. 72, Doug

Links of interest:

The NUE-PSK Digital Modem

QRPers have long been fans of PSK. And why wouldn’t they? The mode is efficient and uses DSP technology to help discover low bandwidth digital signals.  What that means for the QRPer is: 1 watt + PSK = DX   Very effective use of the juice!

Thing is, PSK has traditionally required the QRPer to bring along some sort of computer and a handful of wires and cables to take PSK to the field.

The American QRP Club has made this easier with the introduction of their portable digital modem–the NUE-PSK. This modem, like other AmQRP products is a kit and requires some experience with surface mount kits.

Here’s the AmQRP description of their modem:

The NUE-PSK is a small 7″ x 4″ x 1″ standalone, battery-operated digital modem using a graphic display for transmit and receive text data, as well as for showing band spectrum and tuning. Just plug in a standard PS2 keyboard and connect to an SSB-capable transceiver like the FT-817 or the PSK-xx transceivers from Small Wonder Labs, and you’ll have an effective digital mode station that goes absolutely anywhere.

The NUE-PSK is a small 7″ x 4″ x 1″ standalone, battery-operated digital modem using a graphic display for transmit and receive text data, as well as for showing band spectrum and tuning. Just plug in a standard PS2 keyboard and connect to an SSB-capable transceiver like the FT-817 or the PSK-xx transceivers from Small Wonder Labs, and you’ll have an effective digital mode station that goes absolutely anywhere.

Why wait? Go check out the specs on their website and also check eHam as reviews come in.