Category Archives: Portable

The FX-4L QRP SDR HF transceiver is on order!

This year, I’ve had a couple of readers very kindly offer to loan me their FX-4C transceivers to take to the field and review.

Those offers have been very temping because I’ve only heard positive comments from owners of this wee feature-packed SDR transceiver designed by Yu (BG2FX).

Earlier this year, I learned that Yu was retiring the FX-4C and would be introducing two new radios, so I decided to hold off on an FX-4C review for this reason.

My buddy, Don, informed me that the new radios were now available for pre-order, so I checked out the option on Yu’s website, and placed an order.

Details (features and specs) are still a little sparse because BG2FX is still finalizing the design and lining up production, but here’s a snapshot of the two models based on Yu’s preliminary info:

The FX-4CR

I was very pleased to read that my buddy John (AE5X) has one of these on order.

The FX-4CR can push 15-20 watts on most bands according to John, which is most impressive for a one pound radio that fits in the palm of your hand! It covers 80 – 6 meters, sports a color screen with a 48 kHz wide waterfall display, an internal sound card for digital modes, built-in speaker and microphone, 9 – 18 VDC input range, and even sports Bluetooth!

That’s an impressive array of features for $550 US (on pre-order).

The FX-4L

I pre-ordered the FX-4L and am told by Yu that it should ship by end of October or early November 2022. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s an optimistic projection.

The FX-4L is essentially a more basic QRP version of the FX-4CR; it’s maximum output power is around 5 watts.

It’s very similar to the FX-4CR in many respects: it has the same display from what I can tell, covers 80 – 6 meters, has a wide voltage range 9 – 18 VDC, sports an internal sound card, and is super compact and lightweight.

The FX-4L doesn’t appear to have Bluetooth. Lu doesn’t mention a built-in speaker or microphone, but there’s an obvious speaker grill and even a small hole that might be a microphone. I’ll try to confirm this. Yu does note that there’s room in the chassis for the user to add a battery or ATU.

I’ve been more interested in the FX-4L because, as you likely know, it’s very rare for me top operate over 5 watts of power.

That said, I certainly see the appeal of a 15W+ radio like the FX-4CR.

(Many thanks to Yu for sharing all of the FX-4L photos above.)

Stay tuned!

I’m really looking forward to checking out the FX-4L and also reading AE5X’s assessment of the FX-4CR.

I’m curious if anyone else has pre-ordered one of these radios. Also, if you’re an FX-4C owner, I’d love to hear your comments!

Taking the Mountain Topper MTR-4B on a quickie activation at South Mountains State Park!

The entire time I was in Canada this summer–about two months–I  used two field transceivers: the Elecraft KX2 and the Discovery TX-500.

I did sneak in two extra radios under the floor of my trunk/boot space, but they both were limited to three watts and conditions were so rough during many of my activations, I wanted the option of a QRP “Full Gallon” (5 watts). Thus, I stuck with the TX-500 and KX2 (which are both actually capable of 10 watts output).

When I got back to the States, I was eager to do a POTA activations with my other radios–many of you know I like to rotate them–but there was one, in particular, I was eager to put back on the air…

The Mountain Topper MTR-4B.

This MTR-4B V2 is on loan to me from a very generous reader/subscriber. In fact, get this: he ordered the MTR-4B early this year and had it drop-shipped to me directly from LnR Precision. He knew I’d be in Canada for the summer, so has been incredibly flexible with the loan period (basically leaving it open ended).

My review of the MTR-4B will be published in the November or December (2022) issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine. Then I’ll be sending the MTR-4B to its rightful owner!

In the meantime, I built an ultra- compact field radio kit around the MTR-4B and in my Tom Bihn HLT2 EDC pouch.

This kit is nearly identical to the one I made for my MTR-3B (just a different color, really).

It contains the radio, a battery, an antenna (although I used a different one during this activation), fused power cord, paddles, earphones, RF choke, RG-316, logbook, pencil, and even a full throw line and weight. I’ve listed all of the components with links below.

It’s hard to believe it all fits in such a compact kit and it works so well. It’s nice to know that with the kit it in my backpack, I’ve got everything I need to play SOTA or POTA at the drop of a hat.

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

On August 8, 2022, I drove to my hometown to check in on my parents. I didn’t have a lot of time, but I wanted to fit in a quick activation with the MTR-4B along the way.

One of the easiest parks for me to hit en route is the South Mountains State Park Clear Creek Access–it’s maybe a 10-15 minute detour off of Interstate 40.

The weather was amazing that day, although I’ll admit I had to get used to the heat and humidity after spending so much time in Canada this summer!

This access point of South Mountains only has one picnic table. I’m always prepared with a folding chair if that table is occupied, but so far it’s always been available. I’m sure the reason is because this particular South Mountains access point is way less popular than the main entrances. Most of the visitors here come to fish at the reservoir.

Setting up

The great thing about having your whole station in a pouch is that setup is quick and easy.

Continue reading Taking the Mountain Topper MTR-4B on a quickie activation at South Mountains State Park!

The New Penntek TR-45L: A Video Tour/Overview, then a full POTA activation!

Yesterday, John (WA3RNC) opened orders for his long-awaited Penntek TR-45L 5 band, CW-only, QRP transceiver.

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!

Quick note about video timeline

Side note for those of you who follow my field reports and activation videos

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.

Now back to the activation…

Continue reading The New Penntek TR-45L: A Video Tour/Overview, then a full POTA activation!

Biplanes, Canoes, Callsigns, and POTA: Looking back on our summer in Canada and final field report from Québec

Our travels in Canada this summer exceeded our expectations.

Looking back

Les Escoumins, Québec (click to enlarge)

If you’ve been following my Canada POTA activations and field reports, you’ll get an idea where we traveled and a small sampling of the many amazing parks Canada has to offer.

We started off our trip in Ottawa where we spent four days.

Only moments after arriving at our hotel that first day, Vince (VE6LK) made time in his schedule to administer my Canadian Basic exam remotely. That evening–despite being a bit bleary eyed after a fairly long day of driving–I passed my Basic with Honours. (I’m still chuffed about that!)

By the next morning, I already had the callsign I requested: VY2SW. My mailing address in Canada is in Prince Edward Island hence the VY2 call. Since essentially every new call in Canada is a vanity call, I chose the suffix SW to reflect my US call. PEI is one of the few provinces where as a Basic license holder you can request a 2×2 call.

My first activation in Canada was at Hog’s Back Conservation Reserve.  I had the good fortune of meeting up with Andrew, one of my subscribers, at the park. It was great getting to know him–what a nice fellow–and to start off a series of activations in Canada on the right foot.

St-Anne River in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges

After leaving Ottawa, we made our way to Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Québec where we’d reserved a condo/townhome for 6 weeks. That served as our home base as we traveled around Québec City, Saguenay, the Charlevoix region, and the North Shore of the St-Lawrence.

At our local farmer’s market in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, I especially loved the VW campervan bookstore.

I noted in many field reports how surprised I was to discover that a number of popular parks were still ATNOs (All-Time New Ones) in the POTA network. Then again, POTA hasn’t been in Canada as long as other similar programs like WWFF and SOTA.

Many of the POTA activations I made in Canada were in urban parks–especially the ones in/around Québec City. These activations took me outside of my comfort zone; I’m used to activating state and national parks back home that are expansive and largely in rural areas.

Continue reading Biplanes, Canoes, Callsigns, and POTA: Looking back on our summer in Canada and final field report from Québec

Sam builds a compact external speaker and 200 Hz filter for the Penntek TR-35

Many thanks to Sam (WN5C) for sharing the following guest post:


A Compact CW Filter and Speaker Build for the TR-35

by Sam Duwe, WN5C

I recently built a Penntek TR-35 and, like seemingly everyone, I love it.

Once the rig passed the smoke test I was having too much fun and wasn’t quite ready to put away the soldering station. I had two non-essential wants for this project: a narrower CW filter for listening comfort, and an external speaker. Here’s a quick description of how I crammed both of those into an Altoids tin. Nothing is new or groundbreaking here, but it has been a fun and useful project for me and hopefully will give some inspiration for others.

The Hi-Per-Mite

The heart of the project is a Hi-Per-Mite 200 Hz CW filter, designed by David Cripe NM0S, and sold as a nice kit for $28 by Four State QRP Group. Hans Summers G0UPL uses the circuit in the QCX so many will be familiar with the filter’s sound. It’s nice and narrow with no ringing, and makes using my base station (a Kenwood TS-520 with the 500 Hz crystal filter) a joy.

To be clear, the existing narrow filter in the TR-35 is great, but I like the option of going narrow(er). It’s a Pixie-level build difficulty so it should come together in an easy couple of hours. I originally built mine in an Altoids tin using inspiration from Phillip Cala-Lazar K9PL’s review and it worked very well. It sips current and is powered by a 9-volt battery. With a DPDT throw switch connected to both the audio path and the power you can easily switch the filter on and off.

The Speaker

A neat aspect of the TR-35 is that there is a lot of audio gain so you can drive a non-amplified speaker. I have a little Bluetooth speaker that does this trick when I want to use CW to annoy people, but I figured if I’m already hauling an Altoids tin to the field maybe I could get it to talk, too. I looked around my junk box and found a broken Baofeng speaker mic and salvaged the speaker. It works really well: a robust but comfortable volume.

I’m sure any little speaker would do the trick… nothing fancy here, it gets hot glued it to the lid of a mint tin after all.

The Build

After I built the Hi-Per-Mite here’s what I did: first I ate a tin of Altoids and felt a little sick. Then I drilled some holes. The one on the left is for the audio input, the one on the bottom for the headphones (both of these are 1/8” stereo jacks), and two on the right for two mini DPDT switches. I also drilled holes in the lid for the speaker sound to come through. I gave the tin a good sanding and tried to remove sharp edges, and then sprayed the lot with black primer and spray paint.

Continue reading Sam builds a compact external speaker and 200 Hz filter for the Penntek TR-35

Activating Plaines d’Abraham in Old Québec with the KX2 and AX1 combo

When we spend the summer in the province of Québec, we always set aside at least one day to hang out in Old Québec. This portion of the city of Québec is simply stunning: it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and the birthplace of French North America.

No other place in North America reminds me more of the years we lived in Europe than Old Québec.

We’ve been to Old Québec a countless number of times over the past two decades; we enjoy checking out the architecture, the window boxes full of flowers, and the numerous museums.

Old Québec is, of course, quite touristy–especially if you visit on a weekend. It can be incredibly busy and also challenging to find parking especially if, like us, you have a cargo box on top of your car (many parking decks have strict height restrictions).

On Tuesday, July 26, 2022, we decided to make a trip into Old Québec to visit some of our favorite book shops, small businesses, enjoy a lunch together, and soak in some of the amazing weather.

My wife encouraged me to find a nice POTA site and–wow–is one spoiled for choice! There are no fewer than 10 POTA parks in/around Old Québec. Check out the POTA map–each yellow dot is a park:

I know Québec City well enough to know that some of these parks wouldn’t be terribly easy to activate since they’re historic buildings and sites–I think it could be done, but you might need to seek permission in advance. I think it would be incredibly fun to set up a multi-park rove on foot; in fact, I’ve put that on my bucket list for a future trip!

The park I was eager to activate is the largest in central Québec City: The Plains of Abraham. It’s a beautiful and open urban park that overlooks the the St-Lawrence river. It’s Québec City’s version of Central Park.

Plaines d’Abraham (VE-1019)

I was very fortunate: after we dodged a little road construction, I found parallel parking on Ave Winfred-Laurier next to the Parc Jeanne d’Arc.

Continue reading Activating Plaines d’Abraham in Old Québec with the KX2 and AX1 combo

Fold-out feet for the Penntek TR-35

I must thank my buddy John (AE5X) for this excellent tip.

I was watching one of his YouTube videos some time ago and noticed that he added fold-out feet to his Penntek TR-35.

Like John, I appreciate my radios sitting at a bit of an angle as I operate and these fold-out feet looked like the perfect addition to my TR-35.

These feet are designed for laptops which are much heavier than the TR-35 or pretty much any similar field radio.

They arrive in a small package with an alcohol wipe to clean the bottom of the radio. The adhesive pads on the feet are made by 3M and high quality. I doubt they’ll ever fail. Since they’re designed to allow airflow under a hot laptop, I believe the adhesive should withstand hot summer days in the field as well.

Continue reading Fold-out feet for the Penntek TR-35

Fickle weather during an early morning activation at Parc de la Rivière-du-Moulin, Saguenay

Each time our family spends the summer in Québec, we make time to visit the Saguenay region  which is just a couple hours north of Québec City.

We enjoy the hikes, the river walks, and other outdoor activities. It’s a beautiful part of Québec.

This year, we spent more time along the north shore of the St. Lawrence visiting Baie-Comeau and later camping and whale watching a little north of Tadoussac. We also explored more of the Charlevoix region and even parts of the Québec City area we’d never visited in the past. I really enjoyed driving some new-to-us back country roads.

A couple weeks before leaving Québec, we took a family poll and unanimously decided to squeeze in a trip to Saguenay despite our other travels.

Due to other activities we’d scheduled, we only had a window of a couple of days to make the trip. The weather didn’t look that wonderful for the drive north and, in fact, it wasn’t. We drove along a line of torrential rain that was so heavy at one point, I (along with many other drivers) pulled off the road to wait out the heaviest bit.

Otherwise, the drive was/is a beautiful one through the Jacques-Cartier  National Park on 73/175 North. Had it not been for the thunderstorms and rain, I would have taken a small detour to make at least one activation.

The first day in Saguenay was all about walking on the river, and hitting some of our favorite spots when the rain finally moved on; I didn’t attempt a park activation. I decided instead to do an early morning activation the following day (July 22, 2022).

Finding a park

You may have noticed that quite a lot of my activations in Québec have been ATNOs (All-Time New Ones). I didn’t specifically set out to activate ATNOs–in fact, they were hard to avoid because there were so many.

Not so in Saguenay!

POTA activators in Saguenay are an active bunch and they are spoiled for choice in terms of the density of parks; there are so many!

It really pleased me to see so many previous activations at the parks I researched–not only activations in the summer months, but also winter (and they have proper winters in Saguenay/Chicoutimi–!).

There were so many parks to choose from, I decided I would simply choose the one closest to our hotel and that turned out to be Parc de la Rivière-du-Moulin.

It was so close to our hotel, I could have easily walked there.

Continue reading Fickle weather during an early morning activation at Parc de la Rivière-du-Moulin, Saguenay

Field Report: Pairing the Discovery TX-500 and Tufteln EFRW for an ATNO at Base de plein air Sainte-Foy

At some point during my Canada travels this summer, I realized I had been using the Elecraft KX2 quite heavily. If you’ve been following my recent field reports, you’ve no doubt seen a lot of the KX2.

This was never intentional–it’s just how it played out.

Why the KX2 in heavy rotation?

For starters, I only brought two general coverage radios with me to Canada: the KX2 and the Discovery TX-500. I also tucked away my KX1 and MTR-3B (hidden under the floor of my boot/trunk space), but band conditions were so incredibly poor most days, I liked the option of a QRP “full gallon” (ie. 5 watts+) for activations. The KX2 and TX-500 can push up to 10 watts when needed.

The KX2 tends to be the radio I reach for when I don’t know what to expect at a park. Most parks I activated in Québec were firsts for me so I liked having my most versatile radio option on hand.

Since the KX2 has a built-in ATU, battery pack, and even an internal mic; it’s so self-contained, I pretty much take it everywhere.

Operating from my kneeboard at the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve (check out that activation)

The KX2 is also one of the most compact radios I own–so compact, in fact, it fits on a small folding knee board my friend Carolanne (N0RNM) made (see in photo above and read more about the design in her guest post). With this kneeboard, I’ve no need of a table: just strap the board to my leg, add radio & log book, and I’m good to go!

Whereas I feel like the KX2 is a Swiss Army Knife of a radio, the TX-500 feels more like a tactical radio–ready for any changing weather environment. The TX-500 is water resistant, weather/dust sealed, and insanely rugged. It’s also the most efficient general coverage QRP radio I own, needing only 100-110 mA in receive.

The TX-500 is super portable and I tend to reach for it when weather conditions are uncertain. In a way, I often don’t think about it when there’s good weather. Odd, but true!

It’s a wee bit too wide for my current knee board, but (hint) if you own a TX-500, hang tight. There may be a knee board in your future.

All that said, the big reason I didn’t take the TX-500 to the field a lot is because it served as my “home base” transceiver at our rental condo in Québec. I had it set up for hunting POTA and SOTA activators and making casual contacts. The TX-500 sat on a table next to the deck at the condo and was hooked up to the CHA MPAS Lite most of the time; the KX2 stayed packed away for POTA/SOTA.

TX-500 field time!

On July 18, 2022, I grabbed the TX-500 from the table and packed it in my field radio backpack.

My wife and daughters were up for a trip to Québec City, so I picked out a park in the Sainte-Foy part of town.

There are many POTA parks in Sainte-Foy (indeed, I already activated four of them) but the one that immediately came to mind was one of the few I’d explored previously in Québec: Base de plein air Sainte-Foy.

In 2017 and 2018, I joined the Club Radio Amateur de Québec (CRAQ) at the Base de plein air Sainte-Foy for the ARRL’s Field Day.  I knew it was a pretty expansive park with a nice lake and beach. It looked pretty welcoming in the summer, but I imagine the park gets even more visitors in the winter for skating, cross-country skiing and sledding.

I was very surprised to discover that Base de plein air Ste-Foy was also a POTA ATNO. No doubt, there had been plenty of radio activity on-site int he past, but no POTA activations.

Continue reading Field Report: Pairing the Discovery TX-500 and Tufteln EFRW for an ATNO at Base de plein air Sainte-Foy

An amazing QRP POTA ATNO at the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve in Baie-Comeau, Québec!

This spring, as we planned our two months of travel in Québec, Canada, I jotted down one location in particular that I wanted to visit: Baie-Comeau.

Baie-Comeau is located about 420 km (260 miles) northeast of Québec City on the north shore of the mighty St-Lawerence river. It’s a small city with a population of around 21,000 and is pretty darn isolated. For many travelers, Baie-Comeau is the last major stop before a long, lonely road journey north to Labrador City or further northeast along the St-Lawrence.

I’ve always wanted to visit Baie-Comeau and my wife and daughters were game to make a proper trip out of it!

While in Québec, we plotted the details of our trip to coincide with a good weather opening.

We packed our gear, left the home base near St-Anne-de-Beaupré on July 13, 2022, and drove up the St-Lawrence, crossing the Saguenay River by ferry, and on up to Baie-Comeau with a few stops along the way.

Les Escoumins, Québec (click to enlarge)

It’s a beautiful drive.

We reserved lodging at the Hôtel Le Manoir Baie-Comeau (an excellent hotel, if you ever find yourself overnight in Baie-Comeau). We’re frugal travelers, so this was a bit of a splurge, but the stay coincided with our 20th wedding anniversary, so why not?

I was very happy to see that the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve was on a hill only a short drive from the hotel. It was approaching dinner hour, so I didn’t want to fit in a late afternoon activation with the family; we had other plans that evening. My wife suggested instead that we check out the park and walk the trails before dinner which would allow me a bit of time to scope out an activation site.

Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve (VE-0054)

We discovered that Google Maps doesn’t have the trailhead marked very well. It led us to a neighborhood street a short walk from the park. I remembered reading a note from a local (online) mentioning there was ample parking at “the church” so we drove to a beautiful church nearby and immediately spotted the trailhead. If you ever find yourself in Baie-Comeau, here are the coordinates for the trailhead.

Turns out, the church is no longer a church, but has has been converted into the headquarters for the park which is a part of the Jardins des glaciers.

There are some brilliant views of the St-Lawrence from the parking lot.

We quite easily found the trailhead of the sentier which led into the biosphere reserve. I used my GPS to confirm when we were well within the boundaries.

We enjoyed a scenic hike that evening.

As I mention in my activation video, this is one of the amazing things about doing POTA during travels: you discover so many incredible parks that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. My family truly appreciates this particular aspect of POTA. It opens the opportunity to find spots only locals might otherwise know about.

After our hike that evening, I had a pretty good idea where I could set up in the morning. We made our way back to the hotel and enjoyed dinner and a movie.

Morning activation

So that my activation time wouldn’t interfere with family plans that day, I scheduled an early morning activation for July 14.

Continue reading An amazing QRP POTA ATNO at the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve in Baie-Comeau, Québec!