Category Archives: QRP Radios

Which should you buy? The Icom IC-705 or the Elecraft KX2?

Without a doubt, the most popular type of question I receive from readers here on QPRer.com and over at the SWLing Post has to do with making equipment purchase decisions.

In the past two months, I’ve had numerous questions from QRPer readers asking my opinion about choosing between the new Icom IC-705, or the Elecraft KX2. In fact, as I started putting this post together this morning, I received yet another email from a reader asking my opinion about these two iconic QRP transceivers!

I love both of these radios for different reasons, so the answer is not an easy one.

Let’s discuss this in some detail…

I decided to make a video talking about the pros and cons of each transceiver and note the reasons why one might pick one over the other. My hope is that this will help inform a purchase decision:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Do you own both of these radios? Or did you recently decide to purchase one instead of the other? Please comment with your thoughts and opinions!

Why did I replace my KX2 aluminum encoder knob with the stock plastic one?

Many thanks to Nick (KC0MYW) who writes:

I notice that you put the stock knob back on your KX-2 instead of the aluminum one you sang the praises of here:

https://swling.com/blog/2018/01/a-25-upgrade-for-the-elecraft-kx2/

I’d be interested in your thoughts/views/opinion/reasoning for that. I am hoping to get a KX-2 soon and was planning to get the aluminum knob that you recommended.

Excellent question. I did, indeed, swap out the nicer aluminum knob with the stock lightweight knob. I meant to write a quick note about that last year.

I did this after watching a presentation by Wayne Burdick (N6KR) for the QSO Today Expo last year.

Here’s the video queued up to the spot where Wayne mentions why he doesn’t recommend anything other than the stock plastic encoder:

In the video, I believe he’s really referring to heavier encoders rather than the lightweight aluminum one, but I still pulled it thinking I was perfectly happy with the plastic one and would accept the compromise. Anything to extend the longevity of my KX2.

The video is a fascinating look at how the KX2 was designed and developed. I would encourage you to watch the entire video when you have the time.

Activating Elk Knob State Park for SOTA, POTA, and WWFF

On Monday, March 8, 2021, I had a very rare opportunity: nearly a full day to play radio!

I debated where to go the night before and I had a lot of ideas. Do a multi-park run?  Activate some new-to-me parks a little further afield? Hit a SOTA summit?

While it was very appealing to plan a multi-park run for POTA/WWFF, I really wanted to stretch my legs and activate a summit. The weather was glorious and it dawned upon me that we’ll soon be entering the season of afternoon thunderstorms which will, no doubt, have a negative impact on my summit plans for the next few months since afternoons are typically when I have time to do activations.

After examining the map, I decided to go to Elk Knob State Park. The summit of Elk Knob is a SOTA site and the park is in both the POTA and WWFF programs.

Last year, I activated Elk Knob State Park and really enjoyed the experience.

The round trip hike to the summit (adding in a little trail loop around the park) would amount to about 4 total miles and an elevation increase of roughly 1,000 feet.

Monday morning, I left the QTH around 9:00 and arrived at the park around 11:15–it was a proper scenic drive.

The 1.9 mile hike to the summit took me about 45 minutes. The path was amazingly well maintained: 4′ wide with crushed stone most of the way.

One of the nicest trails I’ve been on in ages–Elk Knob State Park is quickly becoming one of my favorite NC State Parks.

There aren’t any antenna-friendly trees on the summit, so I was happy that I packed the Chameleon MPAS 2.0.

At first, I planned to only bring the top section of the MPAS 2.0 vertical to save space, but the hike was so short, I brought the lower aluminum sections as well. I’m glad I did.

Deployment of the MPAS 2.0 was quick and I the Elecraft KX2‘s internal ATU found a match on 20 meters very quickly.

Elk Knob (W4C/EM-005)

I spotted myself using the SOTA Goat app and received quite a 20 meter CW pileup! As you’ll see in my video below, it was testing the limits of my CW skills for sure.

With 5 watts, I quickly worked stations to my east in France, Spain, and Germany, and to my west all over the west coast of North America. It was a hoot!

I eventually moved to 40 meters and operated a bit, but 40 was suffering from poor propagation so stations that are normally quite strong, were weak that day.

I needed four stations for a valid SOTA activation and 10 stations for a valid park activation. I logged a total of 38 stations in 56 minutes. 75% of those contacts were on 20 meters.

Video

Here’s one of my real-time, real-life videos of the entire activation (less a small amount I removed while eating a quick bite):

When people tell me running QRP is like “trying to play radio with both hands tied behind your back” I’ll show them this video. 🙂

AGN?

While the hike, the weather, and the signals were all in my favor, I’ll admit I wasn’t on my “A Game” that day. We all have days like this where we struggle to copy, to keep up with the flow of contacts, and to send correctly.

In recent weeks, I’ve gotten a number of emails from readers and viewers who said they had a less-than-smooth SOTA or POTA activation and felt a wee bit embarrassed on the air when they struggled copying.

But you know what?

No worries!!!

This is all about having radio fun in the field, enjoying a hike, taking in the views, and soaking up the beautiful weather! It’s not a contest and we have nothing to prove to anyone.

I can also promise you that any chaser/hunter who has ever activated a field site will completely understand if they have to send their call a couple extra times or if they (heaven forbid!) have to re-send their call after you incorrectly copy a character.

This is totally normal.

Be easy on yourself and enjoy the ride. Even on days when I don’t feel like I’m 100% in the groove, I find doing a summit or park activation clears my mind and resets my soul.

My policy? When a mistake is made laugh it off and move on!

Photos

Here are a few extra photos from the Elk Knob hike:


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Frank builds the EGV+ Three Band QRP CW Transceiver Kit

Many thanks to Frank Lagaet (ON6UU) for sharing the following guest post:


The EGV+ Three Band Transceiver Kit

by Frank Lagaet (ON6UU)

Another EA3GCY kit has seen daylight.  The EGV+ is ready for you all.

It was beginning 2021 I got word a new kit from EA3GCY was ready and distribution could start.  After a successful build of the DB4020 I did not need much time to decide to buy this kit,  a week later the kit arrived at my QTH.  As weather was good I did not start immediately building but then winter kicked in, with snowfall and frost,  perfect time for some quality time and building the kit.

What do you get ? 

The kit has a general coverage receiver from 6 to 16MHz,  it has a keyer built in,  has RIT without limit,  requires only 0.25A on RX and smaller than 2A on TX.  Dimensions are 18x14cm and weight is 0.3Kg.   It is CW only, able to produce 8W on 40 and some 5-6 on 30 and 20.  The kit has an AB class amplifier.   Spurious is below -50DBc.  The receiver is a heterodyne type balanced mixer,  sensitivity is 0.2µV minimum and the CW filter is some 700Hz wide,  the AGC is on audio.   Furthermore the transceiver is equipped with both output for loudspeaker as for a headset or earbuds.

The kit arrived in a brown envelope and in that envelope I found a well-packed packet of plastic bags and the printed board well packed in bubble wrap.  Around that another layer of bubblewrap.  Safe!!

All plastic bags were checked,  all needed stuff was there, super,  well done Javier.

All components were installed in about 10 hours “relax max style”,  if you have built some kits already you can easily do this one,  all elements are far enough out of each other,  the board is not overcrowded at all.  Some attention is needed when soldering the IC’s and display but even that is a piece of cake.   Be careful when installing the SI5351 module.

Winding the toroids,  just follow what is in the manual,  it is not that hard to do,  I don’t understand what many find so difficult.  Just take your time and don’t rush into it.

I got the transceiver up and running quite quick. I didn’t install a speaker in the cabinet but decided to go for a transceiver where no speaker is in. If I want to use it on SOTA or GMA I don’t need the extra weight and can take earbuds with me.  So I installed the speaker connector on the board.

I made connections towards the CW key and CMD push button with jumper cables which fit exactly on the headers Javier supplies,  a little glue to keep them in place is also added afterward.  For easy operation I mounted the CW key connector and CMD pushbutton on the front of the transceiver.

Do to be able to withstand high power nearby stations,  I mounted the EGV+ in a homemade box which is made of printboard.  The box should be a Faraday cage to keep all QRM out.  If you buy a box, buy one in metal.  I added a laminated front and back which make the transceiver look kinda cool.   Now you can also buy a box from qrphamradiokits.

Alignment

The alignment is done on 40 meters:  crank up the volume and start turning the 2 coils (L1 and L2)to maximum volume.  Be careful to handle these with caution and don’t use metallic screwdrivers.  Connect an antenna after you’ve done that and do the alignment of the coils again for maximum volume.  Find a station on 40 and redo the alignment once more.  You should already have good results now.

P1 Set sidetone level to your liking.

P2 Set the hangtime of the relay after you’ve been on air–fast fingers will need a quick release. Set this to your liking.

P3 Connect a power meter between a dummy load and the transceiver,  set power on 40 to some 8 Watts.   Measure on 30 and 20 meters,  you should find some 6-7W there.  Don’t set the power to full if you want a long life for the final in the transceiver.  Mine is set for 6W on 20,  resulting in some 7.5W on 30 and some 8.4W on 40.  I think I will reduce even more.

P4 Set to max,  it is the RX-attenuator.

P5 Don’t pay too much attention to the signal meter,  mine is set at 6/8 of the potmeter’s range.  It is only an indication.  If you don’t want the S-meter then you can do a start-up sequence with the tuning knob.

These are in fact the alignments you need to do inside the transceiver.  You should also check Xtal calibration and BFO,  these are settings which you need to do in the set-up.  Don’t forget to write all down when you have maximised these settings. If you do a reset, all these values are erased too so be carefull.

The complete CW 3 bander

Well,  you get a 3 band transceiver which you build yourself,  it has RIT and XIT,  has 4 memories on the KB-2 keyer,  speed of CW can be set between 0 and 50WPM and you can set the KB-2 as a beacon which can be handy too.   The EGV+ provides you with 3 bands which are almost for certain insurance for QSOs when going on SOTA,  GMA or POTA.

You may have noticed some resemblance with the DB4020. You are right as some parts are the same on the board.   The designer worked on the same platform to make two completely different transceivers.  The result is twice the fun for kit builders.

I made a box myself since, at the time of ordering, there were no boxes available,  here’s the result.

The naked printboard transceiver.

After adding a laminated front to the trx,  it looks now like this.  You can see it is not made professionally but I like it.

The paper which is between the plastic was first cut out for the display before placing it in the plastics so giving an extra protection to the display.

I have also made a retractable stand for it,  when folded back it is next to the bottom of the transceiver,  when folded out the stand is under the front of the transceiver,  the retractable stand is also made out of printboard.

It’s an easy-to-make stand–take some old printboard and solder it together.   The pictures explain it all, I think.

Meanwhile, I already made a lot of QSOs with this small (16 X 20 X 6 cm) QRP transceiver.   The power out is better than expected and even reduced so all bands are within QRP regulations.

Finally, I’d like to say that I’m not sponsored to make this kit,  I don’t have any ties with the kit producer, nor do I gain money with building it.   If people would like to have this QRP kit built for them I’m willing to help out in populating the board and aligning it.  A ready made box is available with qrphamradiokits.   This also stands for the DB4020 which I made earlier.

The kit comes for 125€ without shipping costs.  Many European countries will have no shipping costs at all.  The enclosure comes for 50€ all included. This means you have a complete 3 band radio for about 200€.  In my eyes, this is a pretty good deal.

Info about the kit can be found here :   Home – Página web de ea3gcy (qrphamradiokits.com)

And here : EGV+ Three band CW – Página web de ea3gcy (qrphamradiokits.com)

My review of the Icom IC-705 QRP transceiver

I recently published my full review of the Icom IC-705 over at the SWLing Post. If you’ve been following QRPer for long, you’ve likely seen this little radio in action.

If you’d like to read the full review, which was originally posted in the February 2021 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine, click on this link to visit the SWLing Post.

Why I sold my Xiegu G90

Many thanks to Brain who asks:

“Thomas, I read your review of the Xiegu G90 transceiver on the SWLing Post and it seemed your overall impression was positive. I bought a G90 some time ago and love it. So far, I’ve only been listening with it, but hope to pass both my Technician and General class license exams this month. Curious why you stated that you sold it after your review. Could you shed a little light on that decision? Inquiring mind here. Thanks so much for your articles and videos.”

Good question, Brian! And bravo on tackling both your Tech and General class license exams in one go! We’re rooting for you!

The short answer is it had more to do with my own personal preferences than the radio’s performance and specifications.

As I stated in my review, I think the G90 is a great value and certainly a capable field radio. It must be one of the most popular portable transceivers in the Parks On The Air (POTA) program (along with the Yaesu FT-891) which is certainly worth noting.

You would be hard-pressed to find a transceiver with the features of the G90–including an excellent internal ATU and 20 watts output–for less than $600 and the G90 is currently only $425 US.

If you have a limited budget, and like the overall specs and features of the G90, you really can’t go wrong.

Personal preferences

When I review a product, I do my best not to allow my own personal preferences to cloud my judgement. I try to imagine how I’d review a piece of gear based on being in a number of other operators’ shoes.

One of my pet peeves, in fact, is to read a product review and find that the reviewer is indulging in nit-picking and hyper-focusing on particular characteristics, features, and design shortcomings. I want to hear the negatives for sure, but I also want to feel comfortable that the reviewer’s personal preferences didn’t cloud their overall objectivity.

I also value real-word, hands-on experience in a product review.

After purchasing the Xiegu G90, I took it to the field and made a number of POTA activations with it. It never disappointed. I also used it in the shack for a couple of months. I found that the display was quite useful, easy to read, and it had most of the functions and features I tend to use in the field. Never once did I feel it was under-performing or not meeting my expectations. If anything, the G90 exceeded my expectations.

In fact, I remember telling some of my friends that the G90 was a “keeper” after taking it on a few field outings. But after my review, I found that I rarely reached for it when heading to the field. Why? Turns out some of my own personal preferences surfaced:

Memory Keying

Most of my other QRP transceivers have CW memory keying and/or voice memory keying. The Xiegu G90 does not.

For POTA and SOTA activators, voice and CW memory keying is a useful feature, as it frees you to do other things like log, eat a sandwich, or talk to others while calling CQ. In other words, it can help with your “work flow.” If you’ve watched my activation videos, you might have noticed that I tend to use memory keying for calling CQ and, sometimes, for sending 73s.

When walking out the door to hit the field, I tend to grab my transceivers that have memory keying functions.

Audio

The G90 has an excellent internal speaker for use in the field. With that said–and this is hard to describe–I find its overall audio characteristics a little “harsh” and unrefined. I found that, over time, the G90 gave me a bit of listener fatigue during long sessions in the field or shack. That’s not to say it has bad audio–it’s just not as good as some of my other transceivers.

Key clicks

ARRL lab testing shows that the G90 has key clicks in transmit. In fact, the key clicks were bad enough in their testing that they suggested never using the G90 with an external amplifier.  For those of us who don’t use amplifiers, this may never be a factor at all. Also, Xiegu retailers sell affordable external amplifiers to pair with the G90, so I must assume it doesn’t affect all amplifiers negatively. If I’m being honest with myself, I think this was another nail in the coffin.

In summary…

I knew the G90 would collect dust, so I sold it.

However, I know operators who love the G90 so much, they sold their pricier rigs after buying a G90. I even know operators who own two G90s: one for the shack, one for the field. With a total investment of only $850, I see why they made that choice.

The G90 just wasn’t for me though.

A final note about the new Xiegu GSOC

Ironically, I was asked by Radioddity to evaluate the new Xiegu GSOC controller only a couple weeks after I sold my original G90. Since the GSOC is designed to pair with the G90 , they had to send me another G90 on loan for the evaluation.

If you have a G90 and have considered purchasing the GSOC, I would strongly urge you to read my latest review of the GSOC.

In short: I can’t recommend it. The G90 is a much better radio without the GSOC controller, in my opinion.

Do you own the G90?

Have you even owned or operated the Xiegu G90? What do you consider to be its pros and cons? Please comment!

60 Meter “Woodpecker” QRPp Transceiver Kit From Breadboard Radio

I’ve just received the following announcement from Breadboard Radio. Looks like a fun build and quite useful QRP radio for the 60 meter band!


60 METER “Woodpecker” QRPp Transceiver Kit From Breadboard Radio

Breadboard Radio has just released the “Woodpecker” a 60 meter low power CW transceiver for the 60 meter band. The Woodpecker features a crystal controlled transmitter with a 500 milliwatt output on 5332 kilohertz, sometimes referred to as channel 1. 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 designer, W4FSV has made multiple contacts using a 160 meter inverted L 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 40 meter version will be available soon.

More information is available at www.breadboardradio.com

The introductory price is $49.95 US.

Click here to read the full PDF manual (note this is a large file).

POTA Field Report: Pairing the FT-817ND with the EFT Trail-Friendly antenna at Lake Norman

Last week, I thoroughly enjoyed taking the Yaesu FT-817ND to the field.

While the ‘817 lacks features I’ve come to appreciate during field activations like voice and CW memory keying, it’s still an incredibly fun and capable radio.

Last Monday (January 18, 2021), I had an opportunity to visit Lake Norman State Park (K-2740) and perform an activation around lunchtime. Lake Norman is convenient to my hometown of Hickory, NC and these days I typically spend at least a couple nights there doing a little caregiving for my parents. It’s rare my schedule is clear at lunchtime to fit in an activation–typically it’s later in the afternoon.

As with my recent activation at Lake Jame State Park, I paired the Yaesu FT-817ND with my Par End-Fedz EFT Trail-Friendly 40/20/10 meter resonant antenna.

Gear:

It was an incredibly fun activation and one of the few recently where I racked up some great QRP contacts across the 20 meter band before moving to 40 meters.

Here’s my QSOMap of the activation (red lines are phone, green are CW):

As with most of my activations, this one was relatively short. Rarely do I have more than 45-60 minutes of on-air time during a POTA sortie.

I also made another real-life, real-time, no-edit video of the entire activation. If interested, you can view it via the embedded player below or on YouTube:

I’m long overdue a multiple park run, so will start strategizing soon! The Parks On The Air program has also added a few new park in North Carolina, but none appear to be in the western part of the state.

Oh, and Phillip, thanks for prompting me to take the ‘817 to the field again. It is a gem of a rig and I think it might suit your needs very well!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Testing the updated and upgraded Mat-Tuner mAT-705Plus portable IC-705 antenna tuner

On Wednesday (December 16, 2020) I took delivery of the new Mat-Tuner mAT-705Plus ATU.

Mat-Tuner sent this updated and upgraded version of the mAT-705 ATU to me at no cost and asked that I give it a thorough evaluation in the field.

History of the mAT-705

If you’ve been following the story of this tuner, it was the first introduced in September 2020 and designed to pair directly with the Icom IC-705 transceiver. Note that Icom plans to introduce their own IC-705 antenna tuner (the AH-705) but it is not yet on the market at time of posting, so the mAT-705 has certainly had a market opening.

The original mAT-705 had a mechanical power switch on the front/faceplate.

I received the original mAT-705 ATU via Mat-Tuner US distributor, Vibroplex, around the same time I received my Icom IC-705 in early October. I took the original mAT-705 to the field and made a quick video demonstrating its ability to find matches from 160 to 6 meters. In short, it did a brilliant job.

A couple weeks later, however, I discovered that the original mAT-705 had some design shortcomings. I updated my review with this follow-up post.  In brief, the mAT-705 could deplete a 9V alkaline battery within a couple of days if you failed to turn off the tuner’s mechanical on/off switch.

Replacing the internal 9V battery was a complicated procedure requiring the user to carefully detach the front panel without losing the LED lenses that were prone to simply pop out. The 9V battery was mounted internally on the board with adhesive–obviously, not an ideal situation for an ATU that would require frequent battery replacement. Due to this, I simply could not recommend the original mAT-705–it was too pricey at $220 for an antenna tuner with so many design shortcomings. For full details, read this post.

Introducing the mAT-705Plus

Mat-Tuner was obviously listening to customer feedback, because within two months they introduced the upgraded and updated mAT-705Plus antenna tuner.

I love the USB-C charging port!

Here are the mAT-705 upgrades:

  • No mechanical on/off switch–power is internally managed
  • 9V battery replaced with 1000 mAh internal lithium cells
  • Batteries are internally charged via USB-C port
  • No longer necessary to open the enclosure/housing

Update: Using the mAT-705Plus with other transceivers

Since the new mAT-705Plus lacks a power switch to manually turn it on, I originally noted that I was unsure if it could be engaged via RF sensing when paired with other transceivers. I tried to no avail. Before posting this review, I sent an inquiry to Mat-Tuner about this. Here is their reply:

The power of the new version of the mAT-705Plus tuner is controlled by the KEY signal of the control cable. When KEY is high, the tuner is automatically turned on. The function of following the transmitter to automatically turn on and off is realized.

In addition, the mAT-705Plus tuner follows the ICOM tuner protocol. Like other ICOM tuners, you can manually start the tuning cycle by manually customizing the control cable, just like the AT-120 tuner.

After you solve the KEY signal to trigger the tuner to start and make a manual control cable, you can use it [the mAT-705Plus] for other non-ICOM brand transmitters.  But we do not recommend you to use it this way.

Because it is specially designed for the IC-705 transmitter, [it must be modified for use with] other transmitters, which many customers cannot do.

[Since] it uses a magnetic latching relay, after completing the tuning cycle, you can completely turn off the IC-705 transmitter power and connect the tuner to other transmitters.
The tuner will remain in the tuning state.

To clarify, I believe what the Mat-Tuner engineer meant is that if you tune an antenna with the IC-705, you can power the rig down, connect the mAT-705 to another transmitter and the mAT-705 will preserve the last tuner setting (the last match).

Let’s see the mAT-705Plus in action!

Yesterday, I took the mAT-705Plus to the field and paired it with my Chameleon Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna.

I made the following real-time no-edit video yesterday afternoon. Other than charging the mAT-705Plus batteries the night before, this video captures its first time being connected and used.

The Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna’s frequency range is 160-6 meters–the mAT-705Plus quickly found matches on every band.

Summary

At first blush, the mAT-705Plus looks like the ATU Mat-Tuner should have released on the first go: it’s portable, lightweight, fully automatic, rechargeable, and quickly finds matches across the HF spectrum.

Size comparison: mST-705Plus (left) Elecraft T1 (right)

 

We’ll see how well the power management works in real life. I plan to take it to the field over the next few months and carry a small USB battery pack to recharge the mAT-705Plus when the batteries are finally depleted. Hopefully, I won’t need to recharge it for a long time! The proof will be in the pudding!

Of course, I’ll also pair the mAT-705Plus with an assortment of antennas: random wires, verticals, delta loops, doublets, dipoles, and end-feds.

Stay tuned! [See what I did there? Rimshot anyone? Anyone–?] 🙂


Mat-Tuner authorized distributors:

The new Mountain Topper MTR-4B V2 by LnR Precision

The venerable Mountain Topper MTR-3B

I’ve just noticed that LnR Precision has announced their new Mountain Topper MTR-4B V2.

They’ve released a few details with the promise of photos soon. Looks like the MTR-4B will of course sport four bands (80, 40, 30, and 20 meters) but adds two valuable tools its predecessors lacked: an SWR and RF power meter.

A full 5 watts output power is attained with a 12V supply, but the voltage operating range is 5.5 to 13volts.  The MTR-3B’s (photo above) has an upper operating range of 12V.

I look forward to checking out the MTR-4B and we’ll post photos as soon as they are available.

Here are the details from the LnR Precision Website:


MTR-4B V2

Photos COMING SOON

“The Mountain Topper”

The LnR Precision MTR transceivers are designed to be efficient portable CW rigs. Whether climbing a mountain and operating SOTA or just out for an afternoon in the park, the MTR’s small size, light weight and meager battery requirements makes it a great choice for these activities.

Features:

  • Four bands – 80M, 40M, 30M and 20M
  • Very low receiver noise floor
  • Low current for maximum battery life
  • Wide operating voltage range – 5.5V to 13V
  • Full 5W “QRP” gallon with 12.0 Volt supply
  • 2 line, back lighted LCD display
  • SWR – RF Power display
  • Built in Real Time Clock
  • Internal Iambic B mode keyer, 5 to 31 WPM in 1 WMP increments.
  • Three Morse message memories with beacon mode.
  • Specifications: coming soon