Category Archives: QRP

Hamvention: Tokyo Hy-Power’s XT-751 5W HF HT

I was very surprised to find this handy talkie, the Tokyo Hy-Power XT-751 HF handheld transceiver, at the Dayton Hamvention. This radio will cover from 40 meters to 6 meters in both SSB and CW. It will also have an internal ATU. It is only a concept radio at this point.

Tokyo Hy-Power hopes to have this radio in production mid 2014.

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Hamvention: Palstar announces the TR-30

The Palstar TR-30 (Click to enlarge)
The Palstar TR-30 (Click to enlarge)

I was more than surprised to find Palstar showcasing a transceiver at the 2013 Hamvention. Palstar is well-known for their tuners and their receiver, the R30A, but they have never sold a transceiver to my knowledge.

As you can see from the photos, the Palstar TR-30 has a simple faceplate with a touch screen display. It is all aluminum, thus is very light. TR-30 is rated for 20 watts PEP and has an 11 pole filter on board.

I hope to review one once it is in production. Palstar expects the TR-30 to be available August 2013.

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)

When I asked about the price, the told me a range of $1,500-2,000 US. (Gulp!)

TEN-TEC Introduces the Model 506 Rebel: an open-source QRP transceiver

The TEN-TEC Model 506 Rebel 20/40 meter QRP Transceiver (Photo: TEN-TEC--click to enlarge)
The TEN-TEC Model 506 Rebel 20/40 meter QRP Transceiver (Photo: TEN-TEC–click to enlarge)

Today, at the QRP ARCI convention–Four Days In May–TEN-TEC will announce a new QRP transceiver based upon a completely different platform than any others rigs they have in production: a QRP radio, built on the chipKIT™ Uno32™ (Arduino-based software) to be known as the Model 506 Rebel.

And, folks, I’ve been lucky enough to get my mitts on a prototype…!

The Model 506 Rebel

The TEN-TEC Model 506 Rebel is an open-source (meaning, anybody can program it), factory-built QRP transceiver based on a Chip Kit Uno 32 Arduino-compatible prototyping platform, which serves as the main processing unit that holds the Rebel’s program. (For those of you not familiar with the Arduino series, check out this article.)

And I have to admit, I love the concept: TEN-TEC delivers a factory-built, uber-simple transceiver, with just enough programming to reliably get you on the air with a basic radio (see details below). Users then have full access to develop and program the Rebel via an open-source platform, themselves. No need to wait on firmware revisions; firmware, in a sense, will be crowd-sourced! That’s to say, it uses online collaboration–a great idea.

According to TEN-TEC, the programming environment is very safe. Users can tinker with code without fear that they might harm their Rebel 506. The original base program can be re-flashed to the radio at any time. So if you can’t get past an error, you can always revert to a safe default copy.

In addition, even if you don’t have any idea how to program, someone has already created a web-based email group where users can upload and share code packages, and you can select someone else’s programming to test drive. Click here to join the group.

The Rebel is a CW-only transceiver that operates on 40 or 20 meters. The user changes bands by moving jumpers inside the chassis, mounted on the PC board.

The basic Rebel comes with no frequency display. When you turn on the radio, it comes up on the QRP calling frequency of 7.030 MHz or 14.060 MHz, depending on which band is selected. There is no VFO, but a DDS chip that is highly stable and that allows the Chip Kit Uno 32 to select a frequency upon which to operate. Of course, since the Chip Kit controls the DDS chip, you can re-program how the Rebel manages frequencies.

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)

Initial impressions

Last week, TEN-TEC sent me a prototype of the Rebel to Beta test. I’ve had it on the air several times–I’ve also popped the cover and given it a thorough inspection and workout. I’ll share my initial impressions below. I’m not commenting, however, on some specs like filtering, as they have not been finalized for production and are still subject to change. The unit I tested, keep in mind, was a prototype; production units will be still more polished and incorporate changes Beta testers have provided.

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)

Front Panel Layout

The front faceplate of the Rebel 506 is reminiscent of TEN-TEC QRP Kits, gloriously clean and simple. There is a large tuning knob in the middle with a SELECT button on the left and FUNCTION button on the right. Both buttons are large enough that you could comfortably use them even if wearing winter gloves. Above each button is a vertical row of just three LEDs: green, yellow and red. These colored LEDs simply indicate the position of the function/selection buttons.

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)

Function button controls

  • Band Width
  • Step Size
  • User-programmed functions

Select button selects

  • Bandwidth: Wide, Medium and Narrow
  • Tuning steps: 100 hz, 1 kHz or 10kHz
  • User, U1, U2 or U3

There are only two knobs: one for volume (AF gain) and one for RIT (+/- 500 Hz). There is also an ON/OFF simple toggle switch, and a rather classy touch from TEN-TEC–namely, a small LED light in the TEN-TEC logo itself. And that’s all, folks–bare-bones design.

No frequency display

The Rebel 506 does not come with a frequency display. However, there are features to help you understand where you are on the band as you turn the encoder:

  1. As you tune within the selected tuning steps, the LED in the TEN-TEC logo flashes as you pass each step; for example, if you’ve selected 100 Hz steps, then when you pass each 100 Hz step, the LED in the logo will flash once. When you reach either band edge, the LED stays lit. Again, a nice touch.
  2. When you turn on the (factory default) Rebel, the frequency starts on QRP calling frequencies 7.030 MHz (40M) or 14.060 MHz (20M)–of course, you could change these with programming.
  3. There are (already) third-party frequency displays that plug into the Rebel’s board, an easy addition.

Since I had neither frequency display nor frequency counter, I simply used my SDR’s waterfall display to locate where I was on the band. It’s also fairly easy to count the steps with the logo’s red LED.

Rear view (Click to enlarge)
Rear view (Click to enlarge)

Connections

On the rear panel, you’ll find a standard BNC antenna connection, a key/paddle port (1/8″), a speaker/headphone port (1/8″) and a standard DC port (10-15V reverse polarity protected) that equates to 4-5 watts output depending on supply voltage.

Key/Paddle input from the factory is only for straight key, but you can modify the code to make it a paddle input. Also, the headphone/speaker port defaults to headphone use from the factory, but there is a small jumper on the PCB that can me moved to drive a non-amplified speaker.

On production units (not on my prototype, however, nor on those at FDIM) there will be a CW side tone volume control pot via a small hole in the side of the Rebel’s enclosure. Also, production units will have a hole on the rear panel to allow for access to the ChipKit’s USB port.

The PCB has hooks, test pins, and inputs for the following:

  • Battery read pin: reads 0.20 of the supply voltage.
  • Power-out read pin: reads 0.50 of the RF pickup
  • Code read pin: ties to low level audio line, can be used to build a CW code reader
  • CW-speed read pin: DC voltage used to determine approximate speed of CW routine

All connections of the Chip Kit Uno32 are available on the top of the PCB.
The unit accepts Arduino-compatible Shields for such things as:

  • Prototyping
  • Displays
  • Audio DSP

Evidently, the Rebel has a lot of memory space for writing CW memory-keyer functions or whatever the user desires/dreams up. Even a voice synthesizer could be installed in the Rebel; indeed, I believe there are many mods and possibilities for the Rebel. The greatest limitation might simply be…the imagination of the user.

TEN-TEC was clear with me about the goal of the Rebel 506: “To provide a platform for users to experiment and to learn to program using Arduino-Compatible Code.”

The Rebel has a small form factor (Click to enlarge)
The Rebel has a small form factor (Click to enlarge)

I like it!

I have thoroughly enjoyed putting this little radio on the air. Let’s be clear, though: this is no Argonaut VI or Eagle, nor should it be expected to be. Receiver performance is on par with other QRP kits and rigs of its class. The Rebel is fairly sensitive and the noise floor is fairly low. Selectivity is adequate for most conditions, although I imagine crowded conditions could overwhelm this modest receiver.

When I had the Rebel on the air, I engaged in a bit of a rag-chew and found the audio quite pleasant from my GoalZero portable amplified speaker. And other than needing to adjust the side tone volume, the Rebel was ready to go, straight out of the box.

Criticisms? Well, it’s just too early to have many. I’ve passed along all my frank observations to TEN-TEC and they’re actually addressing them now (yet again, one of the many benefits of an American-based radio producer). If this were a $900 rig, performance-wise, I would complain about selectivity. But I’m willing to bet it’s at least as good as the Index Labs QRP ++ I once owned. In fact, though it’s not a full-featured general-coverage rig, it has that same sort of bare-boned fun factor the Index Labs radio provided me, along with many other QRP kits.

Field? I would totally take the Rebel into the field or backpacking. I have a hunch it uses less than 200 milliamps on receive. It’s modestly-sized and built like a little tank.

The Rebel lives up to open-source philosophy

The Arduino chipKIT Uno32™ Prototyping Platform
The Arduino chipKIT Uno32™ Prototyping Platform

Here is the amazing part about the Rebel: TEN-TEC only shipped me the radio–no connectors, no adapters, no power cord. At first, I thought I’d have to find an appropriate plug and solder my own power cord, not to mention figure out what other adapters I would need for my key/speaker…but I didn’t. The power port is very standard; the same one my LDG ATU, Elecraft K2 and KX1 use, with standard positive tip polarity. The Rebel’s antenna connector is a BNC, speaker and key ports are standard 1/8″ and the ChipKit board has a mini USB connection. The top cover is easy to remove–even the toggle switch, LEDs and selection buttons are all standard and easy to access for servicing. Everything is standard!

But it doesn’t stop there. The Rebel is truly an experimenter’s radio, and is meant to be. The programming is completely open-source and TEN-TEC is encouraging and facilitating users to tinker with the code and make hardware modifications at will.

Open-source technology is all about alteration and collaboration, the kind of environment we hams have always embraced. In the open-source world, nothing is proprietary; rather, everything is transparent, standard, accessible; supporting changes and modifications of every stripe. And in my humble opinion, it’s about fun. On these points, the Rebel delivers.

I have done some scripting in my past, but I am no professional programmer. Though many of my Maker friends had been urging me to give it a go, I hadn’t jumped on the Arduino band wagon until, well, now. The Rebel will serve both as a great intro to Arduino Compatible Code and a truly fun QRP rig. If TEN-TEC is lucky, this little rig may actually nudge some of my Maker friends to get their ham radio tickets.

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)

Price

TEN-TEC will be announcing the price of the Rebel 506 in Dayton, literally in just a few hours. I have no idea what it will be, but I’m fairly sure it’ll be competitive with other dual band QRP transceivers and kits on the market. I’ll post an update here when the price has been published. Stay tuned…

UPDATE: Pricing for the Rebel is $199 US.

By the way, if you’re at FDIM or the Hamvention this year, drop by booth 411 in the Ball Arena: I’d be happy to talk with you about the Rebel further (and my radio-based non-profit, Ears To Our World).

Disclaimer: Just to be clear, although I own TEN-TEC (also Elecraft and Yaesu) products, and although I Beta test for TEN-TEC on occasion, I have no formal relationship with TEN-TEC. Nor am I compensated by the company in any way. The opinions in this article and others on this site are frank and my own; they are not those of TEN-TEC.

Four Days In May: A look back at FDIM 2012…

Four Days In May is sponsored by the QRP ARCI
Four Days In May is sponsored by the QRP ARCI

One of the highlights of my trip to the Dayton Hamvention last year was attending evenings at Four Days in May (FDIM), a QRP convention sponsored by the QRP ARCI that rather conveniently coincides with the Dayton Hamvention, which I try to attend annually. Though scheduling makes it difficult for me to attend all of FDIM’s daytime presentations, the camaraderie and innovation one discovers at the evening sessions is wholeheartedly worthwhile.

Last year, I snapped quite a few photos at FDIM which I planned to post following the Hamvention. Unfortunately, shortly after the Hamvention, my laptop began displaying signs of an early demise.  In haste, I archived my photos on a portable drive, where they remained buried for a year.  I just rediscovered this photographic treasure, and thought I’d share it with readers; looking through them rekindled my enthusiasm for FDIM 2013, which starts next week!

A quick look at FDIM 2012

A great characteristic about FDIM is the array of QRP products offered by QRPers for the community. More often than not, these products are fairly priced, and often in support of the QRP community rather than major profit-making ventures.

For example, the North Georgia QRP Club produces affordable wood stands for QRP rigs. They’re incredibly simple, but fully finished and beautifully designed, just the thing to prop up your QRP portable at the right angle for desktop use.

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These wooden stands support the following rigs:

  • Elecraft K1, KX1
  • Ten Ten R4020/R4030/R4040
  • Yaesu FT817/FT817N
  • Hendricks PFR3

The club can even accommodate custom orders for other rigs. Check out and purchase these on the NOGAQRP website.

Speaking of wood products–one vendor last year featured an amazing array of wooden paddle pieces and even custom wooden tuning dimples (spinner knobs) for the Elecraft K2 and K1.

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As you can see from the photos, each piece is perfectly finished and has great character, as one might expect of real wood.

I also ran into Dennis Blanchard (K1YPP) and his wife, Jane, who were signing and selling their books. I wrote a review here on QRPer about Dennis’ story of the challenges and joys of through-hiking the Appalachian Trail. If you haven’t read Three Hundred Zeroes: Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail, you’re in for a treat. I’m hoping Dennis will attend FDIM this year.

Dennis, being a hard-core QRPer, trekked with ham gear in tow; he brought his kits to FDIM:

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There were a variety of keys and paddles to be seen, of course; offerings range from the home brewed to gorgeous Italian Begali designs:

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One paddle that really caught my attention was QuadraBug, a creation of WB9LPU. What makes this gem stand apart from other “Bugs” is that not only will it form “dits” automatically, but it also forms “dahs.” Truly, an amazing work of engineering. I searched the web for a video of the QuadraBug in action, but found nothing. [UPDATE:  Thanks, Yan for finding a video! See video below.]  This year, I’ll take a video if I’m fortunate enough to see it again.

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Home-brew galore

There were an amazing number of home-brewed projects on display, and even a home-brew contest. I didn’t capture photos of them all, but I did manage to snap a few.

One that really caught my eye (being a shortwave receiver enthusiast) was David Cripe’s (NM0S) version of Hutch’s Radio. The original Hutch’s Radios were built by US and British POW’s in WWII. Built in canteens, often from confiscated parts, these radios gave POWs hope by allowing them to tune in the outside world, via the BBC WS and Voice of America. In the spirit of the original, David challenged himself to build his version prior to FDIM, with original parts of the era, and in “secrecy.” Secrecy? As many of the components had to be purchased from suppliers on eBay, David tried to intercept all of the incoming packages without his wife noticing. His success was brief–alas, his wife discovered the mission–but fun; still, the end result was a very cool piece of historical recreation with a humorous story to match:

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Of course, FDIM featured loads of QRP transmitters, receivers and transceivers; here is Dwayne’s (AK4P) 40 meter transceiver, built in a SPAM container:

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Terry Young, K4KJP, built a very cool pocket 20 meter transceiver in an Altoids tin:

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And Alan Shapiro, NM5S, should have won a prize for the most compact set of CW paddles.  These paddles are so small that they can be clamped onto your log book. Much to my surprise, they were amazingly easy to use, and would be a great addition to any field-portable radio:

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FDIM 2013

If FDIM 2012 is any indication (yes), this is a mere sampling of the stuff you’ll see at Four Days In May 2013.  I encourage you to attend: if nothing else, make a little time either Thursday, Friday or Saturday evening to visit the evening displays at FDIM–they’re free and open to the public.

If you can’t attend, I hope you’ll earmark your calendar for a future date. I do plan to bring my camera again this year and will share some photos. Hopefully, I’ll post them a little earlier this go-around!

Hope to see you at FDIM and the Hamvention. For the third year in a row, I will be representing my charity, Ears To Our World (ETOW), at an inside exhibit at the Hamvention. We should be in booth 601 in the East Hall. Please feel free to stop by and introduce yourself! (And if you feel so inclined, you can even donate a few bucks to our worthy cause.)  See you there–!

Best & 72,
Thomas, K4SWL

ARRL 10 Meter Contest

When the band is open, 10 meters is the band for QRP DXing–great DX can be worked with very low power and very modest antennas.

The entire world congregates on 10 meters on the second full weekend of December for the ARRL 10 Meter Contest. This year this contest falls on the weekend of December 8-9, 2012. Complete rules can be found here: www.arrl.org/10-meter. It is worthwhile to note that this contest allows participation by both CW and phone operators.

We are approaching the peak of sunspot cycle 24 and conditions on 10 meters should be excellent for working DX. Even those not interested in the contest per se should take advantage of the propagation and the sheer numbers of DX stations on the band to work some “new ones”.

A Few Hours in the ARRL 160 Meter Contest

I was able to spend about three hours participating in the ARRL 160 Meter Contest this past weekend. I operated CW-only, using my Elecraft K2 running 5-watts, and my primary antenna was my low 195′ Inverted-L tuned with an LDG Z-11 QRP autotuner.

I concentrated on working new sections but even so managed to make 72 QSOs with stations in 30 sections; this translated into an hourly rate of about 24 QSOs per hour–not bad for QRP into a compromise antenna.  I worked stations in the states shown in the map below, plus Ontario. (My station is located in southeastern Ohio.)

Although my primary antenna was my Inverted-L, I also shorted the feedline of my windowline-fed 135′ doublet at the tuner and fed the antenna against ground; this antenna allowed me to make one QSO I couldn’t make with the Inverted-L.

I had been hoping to work a DX station or two and heard but wasn’t able to work just one non-US, non-Canadian station, a station in the Bahamas.

Upcoming “Top Band” Events

Winter is the time to operate on 160-meters. Within the next six weeks we find not one, not two, but three 160-meter contests.

November 29, 2012 (0000-0600 UTC ): QRP ARCI Top Band Sprint (rules) — note that this the evening of Wednesday, November 28 in North America!

November 30 – December 2, 2012 (2200 UTC Friday – 1600 UTC Sunday): ARRL 160 Meter Contest (rules); this contest includes a QRP class.

December 29 – 30 (1500 UTC Saturday – 1500 UTC Sunday):  Stew Perry Top Band Distance Challenge (rules); this contest includes a QRP class.

If you don’t have a dedicated 160-meter antenna but have a 40m or 80m dipole/doublet, try shorting the feedline at the radio and work it against ground through an antenna tuner; this will convert your dipole/doublet into a vertical with a really big “top hat”.

 

Ten-Tec holiday specials include QRP kits

Ten-Tec is discounting their 1380 and 1330 QRP kits for the holiday season. They’ve also extended their discount on the R4030 QRP tranceiver (details below).

(Source: Ten-Tec)

The 1380 and 1330 QRP transceiver kits, which are regularly priced at $124.00, are $99.00 through Christmas.  These are great QRP kits and many are used on the air daily and in QRP contests.   It is great fun to work 80 meter QRP in the winter months,  so order yours today.  http://www.tentec.com/products/80-Meter-QRP-Transceiver-Kit.html

The R4030 transceiver is still at $188.00 from their list of $249.00 and this price will continue through Christmas.  This is a great trail friendly QRP transceiver with lots of features like an LCD frequency readout display, cw memories and much more.  This is a great price for a full-featured QRP rig.  Read more about the R4030 at http://www.tentec.com/products/Sale-Price!-Two-Band-CW-QRP-Transceiver-%252d-40-%252d-30-Meters.html

Upcoming Event — 2012 QRP ARCI Fall QSO Party

This coming weekend is the 2012 QRP ARCI Fall QSO Party, one of the  most popular contests of the QRP calendar. This year, new entry categories are based on the antenna used; those participating with a simple wire antenna or a vertical won’t be competing against those using beams or other multi-element antennas.

The Fall QSO Party runs from 1200UTC on Saturday the 13th through 2400UTC on Sunday the 14th.

Here are the complete rules:

http://www.qrparci.org/content/view/8399/118/

I won’t be competing in the Fall QSO Party to win. Instead, I’ll do as I’ve done several times in the past–I’ll use this event as an opportunity for what might be my last outdoor “field event” of the year. A good friend and I will be spending a few hours at Mt. Gilead State Park in north-central Ohio enjoying what promises to be beautiful fall weather, good friendship, and an opportunity to enjoy CW in the great outdoors.

If you participate in the Fall QSO Party, you are very likely to hear stations participating in the Pennsylvania and Arizona QSO Parties. Here are the rules for these two events:

Pennsylvania QSO Party:
http://www.nittany-arc.net/pqppdf/paqsorules12.pdf

Arizona QSO Party:
http://www.azqsoparty.org/rules.html

 

Video: See a prototype Begali Adventurer in action aboard the USS Slater

This video features operations of the QRP DE-Xpedition aboard the USS Slater.  Among other innovations, they show a protoype Begali Adventurer in action.  The Adventurer is a miniature set of paddles which attaches to portable QRP rigs like the new Elecraft KX3.