Category Archives: New Products

BayCon 2022: Mark introduces SOAR (Satellite Optimized Amateur Radio)

If you’ve been listening to the Ham Radio Workbench Podcast, you’ve no doubt heard Mark Smith (N6MTS) talk about his “secret squirrel” project. At BayCon 2022 this past weekend, Mark revealed that the “secret squirrel” is a new product he’s designed called SOAR (Satellite Optimized Amateur Radio).

Mark announced that SOAR is basically a radio that’s “optimized for operating FM satellites.”

That’s a very modest description for a radio that can not only handle full duplex FM satellite communications, but also leverage the power of a GPS and CPU to help predict passes, aim an antenna, and adjust for doppler shift on the fly. And, oh yeah, it even records.

SOAR actually does much more than this.

If full duplex satellite work is the sort of thing that interests you, I highly recommend watching Mark’s BayCon presentation:

Click here to view on YouTube.

You can learn more about SOAR at:

The Halibut Electronics website has only recently been launched, so there’s not a lot of info there at time of posting. For the latest news, I suggest you follow Mark on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/SmittyHalibut

Of course, I’ll post updates here on QRPer.com.

Note this presentation was originally given at BayCon 2022: https://www.bay-net.org/baycon.html

N6ARA introduces the new TinyPaddle Jack!

A few week ago, my buddy Ara (N6ARA) sent me a prototype of his new ultra-portable CW key, the TinyPaddle Jack (TPJ).

You might recall, Ara introduced the original TinyPaddle late last year. His motivation for the original TinyPaddle was to have a super minimalist paddle that could be stored away as a spare in your kit for those times when you either forget or have an issue with your primary paddle in the field.

The TinyPaddle is a very capable little key!  Click here to read my field report using the original TinyPaddle.

Turns out, there was a lot of pent-up demand for a product like the TinyPaddle. At $15 for the kit or $20 fully assembled, the TinyPaddle is a serious bargain. Ara and his father have been quite busy producing these.

Enter the TinyPaddle Jack (TPJ)

Whereas the TinyPaddle is designed around being the most simple/minimalist backup paddle solution–basically a wee paddle with a male 3.5mm connector that plugs directly into a rig’s paddle jack–the TPJ takes it one step further.

The TPJ is essentially the TinyPaddle  with a female 3.5mm plug encased in a 3D-printed holder and protective cover.

The design is clever. The case that protects it while stored away in one’s field pack, pulls apart and is re-joined to make a very usable paddle holder.

There are actually quite a few purchase options, so Ara created this short video that describes the different components/options and how to use them:

Click here to view on YouTube.

I’ve been using the TPJ with my MTR-3B and new SW-3B. As I mentioned in my field report with the TinyPaddle, the action of this paddle is actually very precise–it almost feels like a capacitive touch paddle.

I find that the holder definitely adds to the ergonomics of the paddle (although it can actually be used without a holder, too).

Ara also created a small adjustment tool that will allow you to tweak the paddle spacing if needed. Keep in mind, this is a very simple paddle design (there are no springs or magnets) and isn’t really meant to be a primarily paddle. I do feel, however, that it will hold up quite well over time. The spacing of the contacts is so fine, I believe the stress on the paddle levers is minimal .

I plan to keep a pair with my new MTR-3B field kit (above) and use it as the primary paddle for that radio. I will plan to buy a second one for the SW-3B a well.

Highly recommend

The price of the fully assembled TinyPaddle Jack ($24) and Cable ($5) is $29 US.

This is firmly in the “no-brainer” category.

Just take my money!

I personally think Ara could charge $40+ for these and they’d still be a bargain. I know him well enough to know that his motivation is in the fun of designing these products and making them accessible to other field radio operators. Case in point: I’ve been pricing quality 3.5mm patch cables recently and I find his $5 cable to be an excellent price; even more competitive than cables I’ve seen on Amazon and eBay.

In addition, Ara even freely distributes the 3D printer files so you have the option to print your own paddle holder!

It’s obvious to me that these products are his contribution to the community that pays for itself enough so that he can continue to innovate. His designs are so clever, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

Very well done, Ara!

Click here to check out all of Ara’s products at N6ARA.com.

The new “Woodpecker” QRPp Transceiver Kit From Breadboard Radio

Many thanks to Bill (W4FSV) of Breadboard Radio who shares the following announcement:


40 METER “Woodpecker” QRPp Transceiver Kit From Breadboard Radio

Breadboard Radio has just released the 40 Woodpecker, a 40 meter low power CW transceiver for the 40 meter band. The Woodpecker features a crystal controlled transmitter with a 500 milliwatt output. The transmitter provides sidetone, receiver muting and QSK with delay. The Woodpecker’s direct conversion receiver has an adjustable bandpass filter, attenuator and an audio amplifier suitable for headphone level output plus a selectable low / high filter which helps with band noise and static crashes. The kit is supplied with crystals for 7030 and 7056 kilohertz. Other frequency crystals may be user supplied.

The designer, W4FSV has made multiple contacts using a 40 meter dipole antenna including many from 500 to 1000 miles. The kit is complete with all parts including a cabinet and attractive front panel plastic decal. A two channel 30 meter version may be available soon. A 60 meter version is also available.

More information is available at www.breadboardradio.com.

The new WA3RNC TR-35 4-Band 5-Watt CW Transceiver Kit

Many thanks to Jim (N9EET) who notes that WA3RNC will soon be shipping his latest QRP transceiver kit: the TR-35.

According to the WA3RNC website, factory wired/assembled kits are available now for $379 US. The regular kits (with pre-wound toroids!) will be available for purchase January 24, 2022 for $279 US. If you’d like the pre-assembled version, simply click the checkbox that adds $100 for assembly in the WA3RNC store.

Here are a few TR-35 specs from the WA3RNC website:

    • Size 5 ½ X 3 ¼ X 1 ½ less protrusions, weight 10.6 Oz
    • 5 watts output on all bands at 12vdc input
    • Full coverage of 40, 30, 20, and 17 meters with extended RCVR  tuning above and below
    • RCVR modes for CW narrow and CW wideband, and for SSB reception
    • Optimized for operation from 3 series-connected 18650 Lithium cells
    • RIT tunes + and – 5KHz
    • Blue OLED display reads frequency to 10 Hz and RIT offset
    • Built in Iambic keyer is adjustable 5 to 45 WPM with front panel control
    • Separate jacks for straight key and paddles; Always ready for SKCC contacts
    • Operates on 9.5 to 14 volts, < 100 ma receive, about 1 Amp Xmitt at 10 volts
    • Selectable tuning resolution steps of 10, 100, and 1000Hz
    • Low battery indicator with internal adjustment 9.5 to 11.5 volts 
    • Front panel adjustable RF gain control
    • Front panel TX power control; Adjustable from 0 to full output
    • Rugged TO-220 FET RF amp has delivered 5 Watts key down for 5 minutes
    • Signal quality blue LED, RIT warning orange LED, Low battery red LED
    • Excellent receiver sensitivity with MDS of -125dBm
    • Very effective receive AGC prevents ear damage with strong signals
    • Transmitter harmonics and spurs -52dB, meets FCC specs
    • CW sidetone is the actual transmitter signal as heard by receiver
    • Match the received signal tone to the sidetone for perfect zero beating
    • Sharp IF filter; Better than 350 Hz at the -6dB point, plus 700 Hz audio filter
    • Over 250 machine placed SMT parts, and about 55 user installed parts
    • All critical circuits are factory pre-aligned and calibrated
    • No endless “back menus”; There is a control or switch for every function
    • Factory wired and tested option available
    • All torroids are factory wound and prepared

Resources

I love the simplicity of WA3RNC’s designs! I’m sure this will be a popular little kit!

The new (tr)uSDX QRP transceiver kit by DL2MAN & PE1NNZ!

Oh my giddy aunt!

I just learned–via AE5X’s excellent blog–that Manuel DL2MAN and Guido’s PE1NNZ fork of the uSDX series of transceivers is now for sale in both kit form and fully assembled (projected in March/April) via the Romanian retailer/manufacturer roWaves.

Of course, it hit the web and everything is already sold out. John snagged a second production run one, though!

As John makes clear, this is not the Chinese uSDX version (that I recently sent back to the retailer due to its numerous issues). It’s a complete kit version of the uSDX sandwich transceiver.

I would encourage you to check out AE5X’s post for more details.

My oh my, we live in exciting times! I have been hoping that someone out there would kit up the original uSDX sandwich for all to enjoy!

Overloading: The Xiegu X6100’s biggest negative

I’ve had the Xiegu X6100 on loan from Radioddity since December 23rd, 2021. In that time, I’ve used it heavily in the shack and I’ve taken it on three field activations using a variety of antennas.

Overall, I think it’s a great little field radio.

I’ll be producing an in-depth review of the X6100 for The Spectrum Monitor magazine, but in the meantime I’m trying to bring up any points in advance that might help others make a purchase decision.

On that note?

Receiver overloading

Let’s face it: receiver strong signal handling and overload performance are important factors when you choose a radio.

No one buys a new radio and says, “I really hope it overloads easily!

As the title of this post implies, the biggest negative with the Xiegu X6100–in my humble opinion–is that it is prone to overload when in the presence of a strong signal. It’s a shame the front end isn’t more robust.

I’ve noticed this from my QTH, especially when tuning the X6100 outside of the ham radio bands. Indeed, I recently made a post about this on the SWLing Post. In truth, though, all bets are off when we move into the broadcast portions of the HF spectrum. Transceiver manufacturers usually don’t guarantee performance outside the ham bands. It makes sense as the focus is placed on ham band filtering.

But I have noticed overloading on the ham radio bands as well.

Earlier today, I did a park activation in Pisgah National Forest with the X6100. Before my activation started, I could hear a local AM broadcaster punching through the X6100’s front end all over the 40M band. I think it was a station on 1010 kHz which is only about 4-5 miles away from the site as the crow flies.

Disappointing.

Was it an issue? Not really. Not for me. Continue reading Overloading: The Xiegu X6100’s biggest negative

Xiegu X6100: Scott’s thoughts and impressions

Yes, Scott will freely admit that his sticker is tongue-in-cheek!

Many thanks to Scott (KN3A) who recently commented with his thoughts and impressions of the Xiegu X6100. Scott writes:

When you published your X6100 [field] report, I could not wait to see the video! You tipped me off when we had our QSO that you were using it! As you said in your YouTube comment, a X6100 to X6100 was accomplished at your activation!

I am an avid POTA/SOTA QRP operator and mostly use my Icom IC-705 on activations. It is a superb radio and no intention of ever selling it. The reason I was attracted to my X6100 was the fact it’s an SDR, has a very nice display screen and has a built in ATU. I use many different antennas on activations, and some require a ATU, like my Sotabeams Bandhopper 3. I like using it when I go backpacking and activating due to how easy it is to deploy and lightweight.

To those who attempt to compare the X6100 to the IC 705 is like comparing a Ford F-150 to a Toyota Tacoma. I had an X5105 for a few months and went on a few activations with it. I would mostly compare the X6100 to the X5105 and call it a big upgrade to the X5105.

I got familiar with the X6100 in my hamshack the past 3 weeks, and although I know of it’s shortcomings, which I did share with Thomas prior to it’s arrival at his QTH, I am very pleased with the radio even with the features that are not enabled yet.

On Christmas eve, I went hiking and afterwards did a quick POTA activation inside my car using my IC 7100 and 50 watts. The temperature was getting warmer and warmer out, so I made a hasty decision to go home and get the x6100 and take it to another local park and sit outside on a picnic table. I decided to use my spark plug antenna and use my 17 ft. Shakespeare fishing pole. I had almost 1:1 SWR on 40 and 20 meters and had to use the ATU as I was having about a 3:1 on 30. The ATU kicked in and had a perfect match in seconds, which is also the same response as the G90 and x5105. Continue reading Xiegu X6100: Scott’s thoughts and impressions

New Xiegu X6100 firmware adds WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity

The X6100 WLAN configuration screen.

Many thanks to Radioddity who sent me the following note this morning:

We released new [Xiegu X6100]  firmware, which adds BT & WiFi function.

    1. Added WIFI function
    2. Added Bluetooth function
    3. Fixed the bug that can not save the user-selected filter group(1,2,3)
    4. Optimized the ALC algorithm and corrected the problem of power rise slow.
    5. Optimized the system settings.

For more details, please check this blog below,
https://radioddity.com/blogs/all/xiegu-x6100-firmware-upgrade-20211207

New Firmware Update Guide:
https://radioddity.s3.amazonaws.com/Xiegu_X6100_Wifi_%26_Bluetooth_Function_Instructions_20211230.pdf

The new Xiegu X6100: Let’s see how well it performs CW in the field!

Last week, I received the new Xiegu X6100 QRP HF transceiver on loan from Xiegu distributor/retailer Radioddity. This is the exact same unit Josh (KI6NAZ) reviewed for Ham Radio Crash Course (click here to see his updated X6100 video).

Many thanks to Josh for sending me this X6100 so promptly and performing the first firmware update!

I took delivery of the X6100 last week after returning from vacation in the Outer Banks. It was bittersweet as I was so eager to check out this new radio but simply had too many projects on the table to complete before Christmas day.

That and in the morning light after our return, my daughter pointed out that one side of my horizontal delta loop antenna had fallen to the ground. Fortunately, I was able to fix the antenna in short order. It’s certainly time to push the schedule up for completely replacing this 10 year old wire antenna!

X6100: Known issues

I had gotten a few messages from X6100 early adopters like Scott (KN3A) and Rich (KQ9L) noting that the current firmware version (the December 7, 2021 release) had taken care of a few initial bugs, but there were still a few outstanding points that specifically affect CW operators. Most notably:

  • Noise reduction (or DNR) in CW mode severely distorts audio
  • CW message memories can be stored and saved but cannot yet be played back on the air (SSB message memories are fully functional, however)
  • Fine tuning is limited to 10 Hz steps at the moment

Someone had also noted possible CW keyer timing issues.

At the same time, I had read mostly positive comments about SSB operation from QRPer readers and subscribers.

Frankly, knowing Xiegu’s history of pushing the production and distribution timeline ahead of a radio being fully-functional and properly tested, I expected a few bugs and issues that would need to be sorted out in firmware updates.

To be very clear: I’m not a fan of the “early adopters are the Beta testers” philosophy. I wish Xiegu would thoroughly Beta test their products so that they were more polished and fully-functional right out the door much like we expect from the likes of Elecraft, Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood. There are almost always minor post-production bugs to sort out even with these legacy manufacturers, but issues should be of the variety that somehow slips past a team of Beta testers who actually use the radio.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox! 🙂

X6100: In the shack

Over Christmas weekend, I did have some time to hook the X6100 up to my (repaired) sky loop and casually work a number of park and summit activators. Of course, I formed a few initial impressions about the X6100 and I speak to those in the video below. Continue reading The new Xiegu X6100: Let’s see how well it performs CW in the field!

POTA Field Report: Activating South Mountains with the new N6ARA TinyPaddle!

On Sunday, November 28, 2021, my family needed a little time outdoors after a Saturday full of home projects.

I packed my field radio kit in the GoRuck Bullet Ruck, then we jumped in the car and drove to the Clear Creek Access of South Mountains State Park (the same site in my previous POTA field report).

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

It was a gorgeous day and we had the park to ourselves. First thing we did was hike the short Lakeview Trail loop.

This trail is only 1.3 miles long, but offers up some beautiful views.

Hazel also came along and enjoyed the sights, smells, and even got her feet wet in a stream!

Fortunately, no one was using the one solitary picnic table at the Clear Creek access, so we claimed it!

First thing I did was launch a line and deploy my 28.5′ speaker wire antenna.

I knew it would pair perfectly with the Elecraft KX2!

I love this compact Weaver throw line bag!

The new N6ARA TinyPaddle

This activation also gave me an excuse to check out a paddle my buddy Ara (N6ARA) recently designed.

He calls it the TinyPaddle:

An appropriate name, because this key is wee! Ara notes:

As someone who likes bring experimental gear to summits, I have had paddles break on me multiple times. […] I don’t like carrying the extra weight/volume of a second set of paddles, so I designed my own “TinyPaddle” for backup as a middle ground option. It weighs roughly 3.7g and is 1.2cm x 1.2cm x 5.0cm in size.

He’s right, the TinyPaddle could tuck away even in the most compact of field kits. You’d never know it was there.

Here’s the TinyPaddle connected to the side of my Elecraft KX2:

Ara sent this key to me for frank feedback (prior to doing a small production run of them) knowing I’d not only check it out in the shack, but (of course!) take it to the field.

I decided to do my activation at South Mountains State Park using only the TinyPaddle.

Gear:

Before taking it to the field, I had some concerns that the TinyPaddle might turn in the 3.5mm key port on the side of the KX2 as I used it. Once plugging it in, though, I could tell that it would not be a problem at all. The paddle is so lightweight and so sensitive, it’s simply not an issue. In fact, it would be rather difficult to use it in such a way that it would shift in the 3.5mm port.

On The Air

Knowing in advance that it was a contest weekend (the CQWW), I decided I would stick with the WARC bands during this activation.

I tuned the speaker wire antenna to 10.112 MHz on the 30 meter band.

Hazel asks, “Got any doggy treats in that pack, daddy?”

The 30 meter band was more crowded than usual as many other POTA/SOTA/WWFF and casual operators sought refuge from the signal density on 40 and 20 meters.

Since I had the family with me and since we’d spent most of our time at the park eating a late picnic lunch and doing a casual hike, I allotted only 20 minutes of air time for this activation. I was hoping I could validate the activation with 10 contacts in that amount of time.

I started calling CQ with the N6ARA paddles. First thing I noticed was how sensitive and precise they were. Although the TinyPaddle is a mechanical paddle (with spaced contacts), they feel more like a capacitive touch paddle they’re so sensitive.

I started calling CQ POTA and soon logged KE4Q.

A few minutes later, I worked AI8Z, followed by W5WIL, WO0S,  WA2JMG, AA0Z, WA2FBN, N0VRP, KA3OMQ, W9SAU, and K1MZM.

With a total of 12 stations logged in 21 minutes, I went QRT.

QSO Map

Here’s what 5 watts into a 28.5′ speaker wire did on 30 meters that fine day (click map to enlarge):

Video

Here’s a video of my full activation. Hazel was being very camera shy; for some reason, she doesn’t like the OSMO Action camera. My wife and I think it must resemble something she’s seen at the vet’s office? We may never know!

Click here to view on YouTube.

And the TinyPaddle?

In short? I love the TinyPaddle!

Ara is obviously a talented engineer. I’m always impressed with devices like this that are so simple, yet so effective.

The TinyPaddle is going to live in my KX2 field pack as a backup to the KXPD2 paddles which have actually failed me in the field before.

That time the KXPD2 failed me…

I mention in the video that I once needed to use my Elecraft KXPD2 paddles to communicate with my buddy Mike (K8RAT) to share my SSB frequency for a very rare park activation I activated in the spring of 2020. After plugging the KXPD2 paddles into the KX2, I found that I could only send “dits.” I couldn’t even set it up to send as a straight key from one side of the paddle.

This forced me to drive 25 minutes to a spot where I had cell phone reception to contact Mike with info for a spot, then drive back to the site. That effectively shortened my activation of this ATNO park by 50 minutes!

KXPD2 missing one of the two center posts.

I sent Elecraft the photo above and they quickly identified the problem: turns out, one of the center posts had loosened and fallen out.  They immediately sent me a replacement post free of charge (typical Elecraft customer service).

I use the KXPD2 paddles quite a lot because they mount directly to the front of the KX2 making it possible to use my kneeboard during SOTA activations.
Since that mishap in the field, I tighten the KXPD2 posts at least once a month and also carry a precision screwdriver with me in my field kit.

A proper backup!

But having the TinyPaddle now is even extra insurance that a paddle failure won’t stop me from completing my activation!

When I made the video, I wasn’t certain if Ara was planning to do a production run of these or not. I’m very pleased to see that he has!

He’s made a storefront on his website N6ARA.com and is now selling the TinyPaddle as a kit for $15 or fully assembled for $20 US.

I’m certain he could actually fetch much more for these paddles, but he wants them to be an affordable, accessible backup paddle for anyone doing CW field activations.

He even includes a link to his Thingiverse page where you can download and 3D print accessories (including a TinyPaddle holder) and replacement parts at home free of charge.

Ara, thanks for making your project so available and accessible to everyone!

Click here to check out the TinyPaddle at N6ARA.com. Note that he’s doing these production runs in batches, but you can pre-order them.

Thank you!

I hope you enjoyed this field report and activation.

I’d like to send a special thanks to those of you who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free–I really appreciate the support.

Thank you!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Bonus photos!

My daughter Geneva (K4TLI) took a few extra photos at the park that day. Enjoy!

She took this candid photo of me as I packed up the KX2. Check out my KSKO (McGrath, AK) tee shirt! Thanks for that, Paul Walker!