Category Archives: Portable

Ten-Tec Model 539 – Ten-Tec’s new QRP transceiver

Ten-Tec Model 539 on display at the Ten-Tec Hamfest, September 24, 2011 - Click to enlarge

At the Ten-Tec hamfest today, I just happened to stumble upon the new, as yet un-released Ten-Tec Model 539 QRP transceiver.

It’s a beautiful, simple little unit.

The footprint is very similar to the Elecraft K2, while its height is slightly greater  than the Yaesu FT-817. It’s very lightweight and certainly backpackable.

The Ten-Tec folks I spoke with said that the current requirements may be as low as 250 mA on receive–though they’re not yet certain.  When I asked John Henry (Eagle and OMNI VII firmware author) about the receiver performance, he mentioned that the receiver board is the same as the Eagle’s, and performance is likely to be somewhere between that of the Eagle and the Jupiter. There is some compromise on a receiver optimized for backpacking and QRP field ops.  Nevertheless…wow.

Price:  still undetermined.

Ten-Tec hopes to take pre-orders at the 2012 Dayton Hamvention. They also announced a companion 100 watt amp for the new QRP rig (see separate post). The amp, however, will work with any QRP radio on the market.

I honestly believe this may be a transceiver worthy of the Argonaut lineage.

Features include:

  • 10 Watt QRP Transceiver
  • 80, 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12 and 10 Meters Ham-Band Only
  • AM, USB, LSB, CW Modes
  • Tricolor backlit internally adjustable display
  • Hardware features in common with the Ten-Tec Eagle Model 599
  • Noise Reduction
  • Noise Blanker
  • AGC – Fast, Medium, Slow
  • RIT
  • Pre Amp
  • 100 Memories
  • Two VFO Displays

Thank you, Ten-Tec; you listened.  

Additional photos:

Ten-Tec's John Henry behind prototype of the Ten-Tec Model 539 QRP Transceiver

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:

More details on the Elecraft KX3

Here are some more details I’ve collected on the newly announces Elecraft KX3 ultra-portable transceiver. According to Elecraft, a product brochure will be available soon.

Dimensions: 3.5″H x 7.4″W x 1.7″D — a bit larger in all dimensions
than a KX1.

The KX3 will have a mobile-mount bracket–it will be covered in the to-be-product brochure.

RX-mode current drain ~150 mA. Very efficient on TX, with dual-output-impedance 5W/10W PA.

The optional 100W amp is in an external chassis. The internal amplifier is 10W with switchable impedance matching so it can also operate with maximum efficiency at 5W.

PA output impedance switch allows efficient 5-W use from internal batteries, or 10 W from external supply.
100 W+ with new high-performance external amp/ATU that works with most 5W to 10W rigs.

Questions from emails reflectors–answers by Elecraft:

>Same flat layout as the KX-1 – just bigger box I would assume????
Yes, but with new fold-up rear tilt-feet.

>…and a K3-like front panel, including the same LCD.
>
> And it makes use of EVERY display on that LCD?? Carumba!

Not quite. I think there are a couple annunciators that are not used. But it’s amazing that the design team managed to fit almost all the features of a 10W K3 into a box that is a small fraction of the size and weight. And with space left over for an internal battery pack!

By the time we’re done, we’ll be using every icon.
Totally different architecture than the K3, of course. (Wayne N6KR)

> More $$$ or less $$$ that the regular K3?
Much less.

> Dual output impedance 5w/10w pa? I don’t understand.
The MOSFET 10-W amp stage includes an output transformer with both 1:4 and 1:1 windings. When using low power, or when running from internal batteries, the 1:1 winding is used, which optimizes efficiency at about 5 W, greatly reducing transmit current drain. The 1:4 winding is used when running higher power (using an external supply).

> One email said 10w/100w models. Is that correct?
The 1.5-pound radio itself puts out 10 watts+. We’ll also be describing a new, high-performance 100-watt+ companion amplifier/ATU for fixed-station/mobile use. It will work very well with other 5 to 10-W radios besides the KX3.

(Source: from various internet sites but primarily through Elecraft and QRP-L reflectors.)

Ten-Tec Adds Two New QRP Transceivers – Models R4020 and R4030

The Ten-Tec Model R4020 40/20 Meters field-portable QRP transceiver.
The Ten-Tec Model R4020 40/20 Meters field-portable QRP transceiver.

When I heard from friends that Ten-Tec had announced two new QRP transceivers at FDiM, I almost fell out of my seat. I’ve heard very little in the way of QRP coming out of Sevierville since the sad news of them dropping the popular/legendary Argonaut series.

Then, this week, when they announced the news on their (new) website, I got even more excited–these transceivers are field portable and small! They very much resemble my Elecraft KX-1.

The new rigs come in two flavors:

  • The R4030 covers the 40 and 30 Meter ham bands
  • The R4020 covers the 40 and 20 Meter ham bands

Simple enough.

The news, which started with a gasp, though ended with a sigh as many noted that these rigs closely resembled the HB-1A (Made In China) QRP Radio. Could this be? It was a little hard for me to imagine. Being a serious Ten-Tec fan, I hang my hat on the fact that my TT radios are designed and made locally–within a 2 hour drive of my QTH! I didn’t want to hear any more rumors, I needed to know from the horse’s mouth, so I emailed TT sales–they responded:

Yes, the R4020 and R4030 is based off the HB-1A transceiver with some minor modifications. We are the exclusive dealer for the R4020/4030 and will warranty and sell this item from our office in Sevierville, TN. We will offer a 1 year full replacement warranty.

So, it was true–I was not shocked. Why?  The price of the R4020/R4030 is only $249. That’s an incredibly low price for a Ten-Tec item. Too low.

I’m not sure what the “minor” modifications are that Ten-Tec made, but I imagine they had to bring it up to FCC compliance and perhaps tweak the receiver a bit. We’ll soon see.

Moving forward

I realized, this morning, that I simply need to forgive Ten-Tec for doing this. I love their equipment and hold their company and employees in the highest regard. I can’t blame them for outsourcing a radio–why?

  1. This is a tough economy.  I’ve been worried about our domestic manufacturers like Ten-Tec and Elecraft (though, surprisingly, Elecraft actually upgraded and moved their production to a larger facility). I’m surprised that they’re able to hang on. I suspect Ten-Tec has had to lean on their other markets (government, enclosures, etc.) to support the amateur radio side of their business.
  2. Ten-Tec could probably not put 2009/2010 resources into developing a radio on their own when they had low-hanging fruit, like the HB-1A, just waiting to be brought to the USA (officially). R&D is not cheap–even if it’s in-house.
  3. They are servicing this radio in Sevierville, TN. That makes me feel a lot better about about buying one of these transceivers. Ten-Tec service is top-shelf!
  4. They really needed to bring QRP back into their non-kit product line.

Bottom line?  I’ll probably get one of these and try it (well, after I invest in a nice vintage boat-anchor set up). I’m in no hurry as I have an Elecraft KX1 and it is my favorite QRP radio.

I will post reviews of the new TT radios as they become available (contact me if you have one). In the meantime, I’ve included some useful resource links below.

Useful links:

HB-1A reviews

Tech Specs of the new R4030 and R4020

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

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.

Impressions of the Hendricks PFR3

Photo courtesy of Hendricks QRP Kits

Dr. Bob Armstrong, N7XJ, did a nice mini review of the Hendricks PFR3–a truly portable field QRP radio. This is an impressive radio for at least 3 reasons:

  1. The kit costs a whopping total of $240 US. I don’t know where else you could find such a complete radio package (with built-in tuner and paddles) for that price.
  2. This radio (much like the Elecraft KX1) was designed specifically for QRP and specifically for field use–hence the major controls are mounted on top of the radio. No need to worry about a place to set your radio, just hold it in your hand (if using the built-in paddles).
  3. Looks like fun!

I got to play with a PFR3 and speak with a couple of people who had built them at the Dayton Hamvention this year. I was impressed with the radio’s ergonomics and tank-like feel as I held it. Though not a beginner’s kit, by and large people were very please with the ease of build. The instructions are pretty complete now that many people have built the PFR3 and given feedback to the Hendricks team. Check their site for updates and notices before you start construction.

I’ve heard of two people who have actually built this kit in one dedicated day of sniffing solder smoke. Not a task for the faint of heart, though–and I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home.  

I am in love with my Elecraft KX1 and this radio looks like it could be its (bright yellow) cousin. Way to go, Hendricks!
Some PFR3 Links:
If you have used the PFR3 and would like to share your thoughts, register on QRPer (see top tab) and leave a comment!