Category Archives: Reviews

Xiegu X6100: N2HTT’s 3D printed frame and side rails

A few weeks ago, Mike (N2HTT), reached out and asked if I could test his prototype Xiegu X6100 3D-printed frame/cage. Mike is the same fellow who sent my daughter (K4TLI) side rails for her LnR Precision LD-11.

When his package arrived, I was very pleased to find out that the frame fits around the X6100 chassis. There’s no need to replace any of the X6100’s chassis screws; the side rails snap snuggly on the sides of the radio and when the components are screwed together, it holds them tightly.

The build quality is excellent and the PLA2 material feels very strong. The package came with all hardware (click here to download the PDF assembly manual). It might have taken me 10 minutes to assemble it.

I think it’s brilliant.

As with many rig frames, the side rails can make access to the encoder and knobs slightly more difficult. It doesn’t bother me, however especially since my X6100 encoder has a fair amount of brake by default (I mention this in my X6100 review).

The frame fully protects all sides of the radio and (especially) the protruding encoder and knobs which I believe are the most vulnerable parts of the radio.

I also love the flip-down screen protector which can serve as both a sun shade or as a tray to hold your phone in the field.

If you’re looking for a frame for your X6100, I believe this is a great option.

Mike is selling the complete frame kit for $65 US. He will customize the screen cover with your callsign and he has a number of color options available.

Photos:

Click here to check out the X6100 frame at N2HTT’s Etsy Shop.

Barry’ review of the ATU-10 QRP Antenna Tuner

Many thanks to Barry (KU3X) for sharing the following guest post originally posted on his website:


ATU-10 from Banggood.com

by Barry (KU3X)

There are times I find myself in need of an ATU. One example is when I use my half wave end fed 40. I can not always erect this antenna in the clear. I did purchase the LDG Z100 Plus 705 with interfacing cable. The unit does as advertised but I am not impressed with its performance. My biggest complaint is, when interfaced and the IC-705 tells the LDG to tune and it does not know the antenna is matched and resonant, the LDG adds capacitance and inductance which actually raises the SWR. It’s too dumb to go into bypass. I resolved this by not using the interface cable. Now I only tell the LDG to tune where needed. Most of the time I turn the LDG off by toggling between bypass and tune using the button of the front of the unit.

Size matters to me and the LDG ATU is too big. Another downside is it uses SO-239 connectors instead of BNC connectors. Everything I have relating to QRP operating uses all BNC connectors, including my home brew two position antenna switch. I do want to get my hands on an Elecraft T1 ATU but Elecraft can’t get the parts from the manufactures to make them. So the hunt was on for a small ATU with internal batteries and BNC’s instead of the dreaded SO-239 connectors. Here is what I came up with.

I ordered the above pictured ATU-10 from Banggood.com. I have also seen them posted on Amazon.com. They can be found on eBay as well. I did not provide a link for ebay because some ebay adds are dated. There is a very good demo posted on YouTube. Here is an overview of the ATU-10 [PDF].

My ATU-10 arrived 11 June 2022. Here are my findings:

The package contained an Allen wrench and a USB cable for charging the battery as well as for updating the firmware. The package DID NOT include the interface cable for the Icom 705 nor did it included any paperwork…….no manual! My battery showed about half charged and firmware version 1.4 was installed. If you forget to charge the battery and go on site with a dead battery, you can supply power to the ATU-10 via the USB charging cable. You may have to give it a few minutes for the batteries to take a little charge, but from that point on just leave keep the ATU-10 connected to the USB cable.

The needed interface cable is nothing more than a stereo audio cable with 1/8″ male plugs on both ends. But, the ATU works without the interface cable, it’s just not controllable from the radio. As for the matching, I can say it works as good as or as bad as my LDG Z-100 Plus. Where ever the LDG provided a match, so did the ATU-10. On 80 meters where the LDG did not do so well, neither did the ATU-10.

I first tried the ATU-10 without the interface cable. I just sent a carrier from the radio and the tuner went into the tune mode. It’s that simple. It takes anywhere from 2 to 5 seconds to find a reasonable match.

To use the ATU-10 with the interface cable, there is the setup procedure. Hook up all of the cables, including the interface cable to the IC-705. Now turn the ATU-10 on. Once booted, turn on the IC-705. Go into the, “Function” screen and tap the, “tuner” icon. You are ready to go. You do not have to change modes to have the ATU-10 go into the tune mode. In any mode on the radio, like SSB, just key the mic and the tuner will tune. Give it a second or two and you are ready to go. Change bands and key the mic, same results. I lost communication between the radio and the ATU-10 when I went to 80 meters. I have no idea why? I just turned the radio off, then back on and everything was reset…ready to go.

When I received my ATU-10, I noticed all of the hardware was not that tight. I retightened each nut and Allen screw.

User group for the ATU-10 and the ATU-100.

Pros:

  • Size…the ATU-10 is small enough to carry in your shirt pocket ( 5″ x 2-3/4″ x 1″ )
  • Antenna connections… BNC. All of my cables used when I set up portable use BNC connectors.
  • Power source ….the ATU-10 has two internal rechargeable batteries so no external power source is needed. Since the ATU-10 uses latching relays, the only power that is needed is for the display. The display has a time out timer and the ATU will turn off after 30 minutes on non use. The ATU will last you for months on end before needing to be recharged.
  • Display… the display shows SWR, power out and the state of charge for the internal batteries. It also shows what firmware is installed. The display will fall asleep after 5 minutes of non use. If power is applied, the display will wake up. The entire ATU will turn off after 30 minutes of non use.
  • Bypass mode (simply turn the ATU-10 off)
  • Construction…..the ATU-10 is built inside of a solid metal enclosure.

Cons:

  • Loss of communication….more than once communication was lost between the radio and the tuner. Easy fix by turning the radio off and then back on but this is very inconvenient.
  • No manual…..not even a little sheet of paper showing the specs. Whatever you need to know can be found on this site: ATU-10 info at GitHub.

Final notes:

For the price, it think this is a great buy. It does exactly what I want it to do and provides a reasonable match to make the radio happy. You can use the ATU-10 with any radio at power level of 10 watts or less. It’s a perfect size for backpackers. I don’t think the interfacing between the radio and the ATU-10 is all that importable. I myself choose not to use the interface cable. Since the tuner will go into a tune mode if the SWR is too high, that’s all that is really needed.

A comprehensive review of the Penntek TR-35 four band QRP transceiver

The following article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


“Look at this, Tom! Only the stuff I need and nothing more,” cheerfully noted my good friend and Elmer, Mike (K8RAT).  It was Field Day two decades ago, and Mike was gazing at his TEN-TEC Scout. I glanced over, and agreed. “So simple and so effective,” Mike added.

I’ve never forgotten Mike’s sage words. That Scout (Model 555) was about as simple as a then-modern HF transceiver could be:  it had a total of three knobs––one for AF gain and IF bandwidth, one for RIT and Mic gain, and an encoder. It also had three mechanical switches on the front: one for power, one for TUNE and NB, and one for CW speed and RIT. It also had an analog SWR/power meter. The Scout used plug-in band modules for each HF band and featured a large segmented bright green LED frequency display that was characteristic of so many TEN-TEC rigs of the day.

And Mike was right. For those of us who appreciate radios with a simple, uncluttered, and an almost utilitarian interface, the Scout was, in vintage parlance, “the bee’s knees.”  And that the Scout also performed beautifully was just icing on that cake.

When the Scout first appeared in 1994, embedded menu options and spectrum displays were not yet commonplace among amateur transceivers. Embedded menu items can open the door to near granular level control of your radio’s functionality and features. Then again, if those embedded menus aren’t well thought out, it can lead to awkward operation practices in the field, during a contest, or even during casual operation.

As a radio reviewer, I spend a great deal of time sorting out embedded menu functionality and design. Perhaps it’s for this reason that I so enjoyed reviewing a radio that bucks this trend and reminds me of a time that was simpler, not to mention, easier.

Enter the Penntek TR-35

The new Penntek TR-35 is a four-band CW-only QRP transceiver that is available both as a kit ($279) and as a factory assembled and tested unit ($379). Penntek transceivers are designed and manufactured by John Dillon (WA3RNC).

All of his transceiver kits are available at his website WA3RNC.com.

I was first drawn to the TR-35 after reading the opening paragraph of the product description:

“Compact but powerful 4-band, 5-watt CW transceiver kit that uses no tiny push buttons, and without those seemingly endless and hard-to-remember back menus. There is a knob or a switch for every function!”

Sold!

I considered buying and building the TR-35 kit, but I wanted my eventual review––this one!––to focus on the radio’s functionality and performance. So a factory-assembled and tested unit was right for this purpose, just so that any performance issues wouldn’t be a result of any shortcomings in my kit building skills.

I decided to reach out to WA3RNC and ask for a loaner. John very kindly sent a factory built TR-35 to me along with return postage and a very flexible loan period (thank you, John!). Continue reading A comprehensive review of the Penntek TR-35 four band QRP transceiver

Which to choose? The Venus SW-3B or the Penntek TR-35?

Many thanks to Pat (N0HR) who shared following question in a comment:

Thomas

I simply love your videos – both your impressions of the gear and the activations themselves. Great stuff.

I’m curious – now that you’ve played with both the SW-3B and the Penntek TR-35, which is the favorite? Seems like they’re both roughly in the same price range.

Thanks for your fantastic channel and website

73,
Pat N0HR

Thank you for the kind words, Pat, and great question! Several people have asked me variations of this very question recently.

I like both radios, so I’ll frame this in a way that might help others make a purchase decision.

Spoiler alert: You really can’t go wrong with either radio and I feel it’s more a question of operator preferences. Continue reading Which to choose? The Venus SW-3B or the Penntek TR-35?

A review of the Xiegu X6100 portable SDR transceiver

The following article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


A review of the Xiegu X6100 portable SDR transceiver

by Thomas (K4SWL)

Do you remember when band scopes and spectrum displays started appearing on radios?  It was a pretty phenomenal innovation. Being able to “see” what was in your neighborhood on a particular radio band was incredibly useful, especially to operators who like to hunt stations, and to DXers who wanted to follow the reply pattern of DX stations running split. Spectrum displays, among other things, gave operators an overall “big picture” of band activity, and it was truly insightful.

Additionally, the advent of SDR (software-defined radio) architecture made not only spectrum displays but also time-based waterfall displays accessible in radios of all price ranges.

From the perspective of both a ham radio operator and a shortwave radio listener, I can tell you that once you become accustomed to the benefits of a spectrum display, when you don’t have one, you feel like you’re cruising the band wearing blinders:  it’s just that essential.

As a result, many hams and SWLs have come to rely on these features. No doubt customer demand has pushed manufacturers to include spectrum displays on almost all new SDR-based transceivers––even portable transceivers!

Enter the X6100

In November 2021, China-based radio manufacturer, Xiegu, started shipping their latest SDR transceiver: the Xiegu X6100.

Xiegu has become quite a household name among HF field operators.  I’ve reviewed both the Xiegu G90 and the Xiegu X5105. The common theme is their affordability, portability, superb built-in ATUs, and impressive feature set. Admittedly, high-end performance––in terms of receiver as well as audio performance––is not their strong suit, but in the field you don’t necessarily need contest-grade performance. I’ve found that both the G90 and X5105 are quite effective and adept in the field and at home. Many a new ham operator has turned to Xiegu products to begin their foray into the world of HF.

Judging by appearance alone, you can tell that Xiegu was targeting the same operators who might consider the Icom IC-705. Cosmetically it’s strikingly similar in terms of knob, screen, and button placement on the front panel.

The X6100 also has Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, like the IC-705: a first for the sub-$1,000 portable radio market. But unlike the IC-705, this functionality was not in place with the first production run of the X6100. It’s being slowly implemented via X6100 firmware updates.

But in my view, that’s where the similarities with the IC-705 stop. Based on the announced X6100 specifications, I could tell well before the X6100’s release that it would lack many of the features that make the IC-705 such a hit; features like a touch screen, D-star mode, VHF/UHF multimode, built-in GPS, built-in D-Star, built-in repeater directories that can auto-load the repeaters closest to the operator, advanced filter shaping, and so much more.

But the X6100 and IC-705 share enough similarities that field-portable HF enthusiasts have taken notice…Nonetheless, it’s one major difference that has really caught their attention. Continue reading A review of the Xiegu X6100 portable SDR transceiver

SOTA Field Report: How long will Pale Blue Li-Ion rechargeable batteries power the Elecraft KX1?

February and March 2022 were a crazy couple of months for me.

So crazy, that I wasn’t able to fit in one single POTA or SOTA activation for a nearly 4 week period. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that long without an activation since I started POTA in earnest.

Between home projects, wacky weather, timing/logistics, and even a brush with Covid, I had my hands full.

Thankfully, on Friday, March 19, 2022, the stars aligned and I was able to fit in an activation of Bakers Mountain for the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program.

It was so nice hitting the field again!

Pale Blue AA Battery Field Test

I like shaking up my activations and trying new transceiver/antenna pairings. On this particular activation, I had a special test in mind.

A few months ago–almost as an impulse purchase–I ordered a set of eight Pale Blue AA Li-Ion rechargeable batteries. I didn’t check the specifications, but I did watch this somewhat promising assessment on The Tech Prepper YouTube channel.

My hope was that these little Li-Ion cells might power my Elecraft KX1 long enough to complete a field activation.

The KX1 is a marvel of QRP engineering, in my humble opinion, and it was the first super portable transceiver I owned that could be powered by internal batteries.

When the KX1 was first introduced, Elecraft recommended using non-rechargeable Advanced Lithium AA cells from Energizer and Duracell. These batteries sported a rather flat discharge curve and could power the KX1 for quite a while. Of course, the downside is they’re single-use and expensive. Six of those cells would often set me back nearly $9 or $10. Before I started doing POTA and SOTA, I kept a set of advanced lithium cells in my KX1 for casual, impromptu QRP in the field.

Doing frequent field activations–which tend to have much more transmitting time than casual Qs–it’s just not sustainable to purchase these cells, so I tend to power the KX1 with an external battery.

I couldn’t resist the thought that I could use USB rechargeable batteries in the KX1, so I forked out $60 (mild gasp!) for a set of eight AA batteries (these are purchased in packages of 4).

The cool thing about the Pale Blue batteries is that they can be directly charged from any 5V USB power source. Each battery sports a Micro USB port and its own internal battery/charge management system.

I was well aware these batteries would not power the KX1 for hours at a time, but I was hoping they could for at least 30-45 minutes.

The only way to really find out was to do a real-life field test. A SOTA activation would be ideal! Continue reading SOTA Field Report: How long will Pale Blue Li-Ion rechargeable batteries power the Elecraft KX1?

Video: Taking the new (tr)uSDX QRP transceiver on a CW POTA activation!

As I mentioned in a post published three days ago, I’m now the proud owner of a (tr)uSDX QRP transceiver.

The (tr)uSDX has been a much-anticipated QRP transceiver for those of us who love playing radio in the field.

What’s not to love? It sports:

  • Up to 5 watts output power
  • CW, SSB, FM, and AM modes
  • A built-in microphone
  • Five bands: 80, 60, 40, 30, and 20 meters
  • A super compact and lightweight form factor
  • An open-source hardware and software design
  • Super low current consumption in receive
  • A super low price of roughly $89 US in kit form and $143 US factory assembled (via AliExpress, but there are numerous other group buys and retailers)

Frankly speaking, this sort of feature set in such an affordable package is truly a game-changer. Back when I was first licensed in 1997, I could have never imagined a day when a general coverage QRP transceiver could be purchased for under $150 US. The price is almost unbelievable.

My initial impressions

On Wednesday, March 30, 2022, I took the (tr)uSDX to the field to attempt a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation. I had only taken delivery of the (tr)uSDX about 15 hours beforehand and had only had it powered up for a total of 30 minutes the previous day. Most of that time, in fact, was checking the power output at various voltage settings into a dummy load. I did make one totally random SSB POTA contact shortly after hooking the radio up to my QTH antenna.

I knew that taking the (tr)uSDX to the field and making an activation video might not be the best idea having had so little time to play with the radio and get to know it in advance, but then again, I was simply too eager to see how it might perform.  That and I always believe there’s value in sharing first experiences with a radio. Continue reading Video: Taking the new (tr)uSDX QRP transceiver on a CW POTA activation!

The (tr)uSDX QRP transceiver: My initial impressions after a CW POTA activation

I mentioned in a previous post that I placed an order for a (tr)uSDX kit with roWaves in February. My order was placed for a third production run kit and I assumed I would receive it sometime in March 2022.

Later that month, I discovered that DL2MAN announced AliExpress would sell both kits and fully-assembled versions of the (tr)uSDX. I used the link from DL2MAN’s website and ordered a fully-assembled unit.

My thinking was that I would receive the kit first, build it, then test the performance by comparing it with the factory-assembled unit. These units are so dang affordable I felt like I could splurge for both.

roWaves order on hold

I recently discovered that my (tr)uSDX kit had been placed on hold due to issues that popped up in the first and second kit group buys via roWaves.

Evidently–and someone can correct me if I’m wrong here–the first and second production runs kits had a component issue that equated to lower output power. In addition, Josh (KI6NAZ), reports that the early group orders had no boot loaded and the MCU was DOA.

I’ll patiently wait for roWaves to sort this out. I’m not in a huge hurry at this point because, frankly, my available time to build a kit has come and gone. The next few months, I’ve a lot of plans, travels, and projects to work through.

Fully-assembled (tr)uSDX

Much to my surprise, the assembled (tr)uSDX arrived Monday and I picked it up when I was at home on Tuesday of this week.

I was only home one night, but managed to do some quick testing.

I soldered Anderson Powerpole connectors on the supplied power cable pigtails. Next, I hooked the (tr)uSDX up to my variable power supply and a dummy load.

A quick test showed that I was getting about 3 watts of output power with about 13-13.2 volts, 3.25 watts at 13.8 volts, and 2 watts of power with 9-10 volts. This is lower than the expected 5 watts of output power @ 13.8 volts. The current consumption in receive however was about 60 mA even at 9 volts. That’s slightly below the published specs.

I honestly had no time that evening to play radio, but I took a moment to hook up the (tr)uSDX to my skyloop antenna just to check the audio quality in SSB.

As luck would have it, the first station I heard on 40 meters was a POTA activator in Ohio. He was calling CQ, so I couldn’t help but reply. I pressed the PTT button on the (tr)uSDX, spoke into the internal mic,  and he came back immediately with a 5×8 report. My meter was showing a max of 2 watts output power–the heavy lifting, of course, was done by the antenna.

This gave me a very good initial impression!

(tr)uSDX POTA Activation

The following morning, after running a few errands and carting my kids to some appointments, I left the QTH for a couple nights of travel.

I just couldn’t help but pack the (tr)uSDX and attempt a park activation en route. My goal was to see if it had enough positive receiver characteristics to be a proper POTA/SOTA portable rig–the feature set is comprehensive for a $135 radio.

I stopped by South Mountains State Park and paired the (tr)uSDX to an EFHW my buddy Steve (MW0SAW) kindly built and sent me. [Steve–I’m loving this antenna! Thanks again, OM!]

I made a video of the entire activation and will soon post the field report. I’ll push this video to the front of the line, but with my internet bandwidth, it might still be a few days before I can post it. Because of this, I thought I’d go ahead and share some of my experience with the (tr)uSDX in case you’ve been thinking of purchasing one.

(tr)uSDX pros

This little radio design has a lot going for it.

The chassis is very compact–perhaps the size of two Altoids tins stacked on top of each other. The encoder does protrude–in fact, it’s nearly as deep as the radio chassis. It’s not that the encoder is particularly tall, it’s just that the (tr)uSDX is so wee.

The radio has all of the CW adjustments you’d typically find in a compact field transceiver and even sports QSK (there’s also a semi QSK setting) with no relay noise. I assume it uses PIN diode switching.

(tr)uSDX Cons

Unfortunately, I did find a few negatives. The reviewer in me automatically gives the (tr)uSDX wide berth and a lot of forgiveness: we’re talking about a $135 transceiver here. I don’t think anyone is under the impression this would be a stellar performer.

In my opinion, the biggest negative is the (tr)uSDX audio. This little rig has a very high noise floor–perhaps S5 or S6.

The internal speaker is very modest and mine is incapable of producing audio at a level that is workable in the field where there are ambient noises like wind, water, conversations, birds, etc. The audio sounds decent when working a strong station, but weak stations are extremely hard to hear. If you turn up the volume on my unit beyond level 14, the audio simply squeals. I need to tinker with the volume control more.

Since the audio was so weak, I hooked up my Sony digital audio recorder to the (tr)uSDX headphone jack and made a separate audio recording for the upcoming activation video.

The headphone audio is louder, but there’s also a lot of noise in the audio amplification chain–again placing the (tr)uSDX noise floor around S5 or S6.

I was fully expecting the (tr)uSDX receiver to overload and it does. The variable filter helps and narrowing it makes the audio sound more pleasant in CW, but it doesn’t stop adjacent signals from bleeding through. Honestly, though? I could live with this and just use the filter between my ears if the audio was simply cleaner.

I also discovered that my unit needs alignment: the frequency display is off by 1.6 kHz in CW mode on 40 meters. I’ve put this on my to-do list–after all, this is a project radio meant for hands-on tweaking. I’m good with that.

One final point and minor quibble: the OLED display is very difficult to read outdoors. It’s superb indoors, but outside any sunlight or reflection simply wipes it out. To read the display I had to cover it with my hand.

The activation was a success: I worked 11 stations in 20 minutes or less, but I’m sure there were weaker signals out there I missed because they were simply buried in the (tr)uSDX’s noise floor.

I liked the (tr)uSDX keying, and I love the form factor, but I’m not sure I’ll ever use this radio again–configured as it is now–during an activation. For casual contacts, it could still be fun.

A little (tr)uSDX grace

I mean…$135 right?!?

The (tr)uSDX is an open source project and truly pushes the boundaries of what one can achieve for $135–again, even much less for the kit version. Frankly, I’m in absolute awe that any transceiver can be made below the $150 price point; especially a multiband, multimode transceiver.

The (tr)uSDX is an experimenter’s radio and I plan to dig into this little unit and see if there’s anything I can do to lower that noise floor. My hope is that the CPU or display may simply need better grounding or isolation. My time is limited at the moment, but I will open into this radio in the next few weeks.

In fact, eventually completing the kit build will give me an opportunity to explore the components and connections in much better detail.

I do know that my unit also seems to have the power output issue that some of the roWaves kits have. I can’t achieve anything better than 3.25 or 3.5 watts output at 13.8 volts. It should be about 5 watts at 13.8 V.

I would welcome your suggestions especially if you’ve built the (tr)uSDX kit or if you’ve put your assembled (tr)uSDX on the air and found that it had much better audio characteristics.

Check out John’s review of the Penntek TR-35

If you haven’t already, hop over to John’s (AE5X) blog and read his review of the Penntek TR-35 transceiver kit.

John reviews both the build and performance. He even put the TR-35 on his workbench and measured a number of parameters.

In short, the little TR-35 does exactly what it sets out to do and packs a surprising amount of performance.

John and I actually had a TR-35 to TR-35 exchange a few days ago (if not mistaken, the photo above was taken after that exchange). I was lucky enough to catch him as he activated a POTA site in Texas. From this end, his TR-35 sounded fantastic.

Click here to read John’s report.

I’m putting together a review of the TR-35 which will likely appear in the May or June issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.  I’ll eventually send this little TR-35 back to WA3RNC (it was very kindly sent to me on loan) but I do plan to purchase his TR-45 Lite kit when it hits the market later this year. Why? Because I don’t have enough QRP radios, that’s why.

Recap of my first SOTA activation with the Venus SW-3B

I made a short post yesterday morning noting that I planned to take my Venus SW-3B and new field kit out on a maiden SOTA/POTA activation.

While I will be publishing a full activation report and video, it could be a good two weeks down the road.

I’ve gotten so many inquiries about the SW-3B, I thought I’d write up a short recap with some of my initial notes using the SW-3B in the field.

This isn’t a comprehensive review; just some beginning field notes I made for a full review I’ll write for The Spectrum Monitor magazine.

Dogback Mountain (W4C/EM-066)

I decided to activate Dogback Mountain knowing that it would easily fit in my travel plans. The views (see above) were extraordinary. Thank you for the tip, Dave (W4JL)!

This was also a shake-out for my Tom Bihn HTL2 field kit which will likely be shared with the SW-3B and Elecraft KX1. It includes everything I need to deploy the SW-3B in the field–including an arborist throw line!

I confirmed that everything in the kit worked and there were no missing components.

I paired the SW-3B with my PackTenna Mini 20 meter EFHW. This limited me to the 20 meter band, but I suspected it would yield enough contacts to validate my summit (4) and park activation (10).

I fed the Venus SW-3B with a 3 Ah 12V Bioenno LiFePo4 battery pack–my output power would’ve been about 5 watts.

Results

In short? It really couldn’t have gone better.

I worked a total of 43 stations in 44 minutes on the air. Here’s what my contacts look like on a QSO Map (click image to enlarge):

Venus SW-3B Field Notes

Overall, the experience of using the SW-3B was brilliant.

Since this little rig doesn’t have an internal speaker, I recorded the audio with an in-line Sony digital recorder. Later, when I produce the activation video, hopefully I can blend the separate audio channel with the video successfully. (Any YouTuber worth their salt can do this, but keep in mind I’m not really a YouTuber!)

SW-3B Pros:

  • Excellent receiver for field activations. I noticed no overloading and it handled the pileups very well.
  • Very pleased with CW filtering.
  • I was able to successfully program the “CQ” button with the following message: “BK TU 72 DE K4SWL” This is huge. At one point, the SW-3B could only handle a simple CW + callsign message. I’m very pleased its only message memory slot can hold the end of my exchange. Also, it is very easy to program.
  • The SW-3B is incredibly compact; only slightly bulkier than the MTR-3B if you include the encoder and AF/RF gain pot protrusions.
  • I am loving the dedicated AF and RF gain pots.
  • Display is very easy to read in the field.

SW-3B Cons:

  • Changing the CW keying sped on the fly is really not an option. It’s an awkward process.
  • The sidetone isn’t adjustable without modifying an internal component. If I could, I’d lower it just a notch or two. As-is, it’s perfectly fine, but adjustable sidetone would be a nice feature.

SW-3B Quirks:

  • When switching bands, the SW-3B defaults to saved memory allocations (not the last used frequency). If you forget and switch bands, then turn the encoder, it cycles through saves memory allocations instead of up/down tuning.

Summary

Keep in mind: this is my first activation with the SW-3B. I don’t typically form strong opinions until I’ve taken a radio on at least three or four activations and used it at the QTH extensively. With that said, first impressions are great. This radio offers much more than I would ever expect for $188.

I see why it has has become so incredibly popular among CW field activators. Now that the Mountain Topper MTR-3B is no longer available, this is a viable alternative.

I’m sure some of you may be trying to decide between the MTR-4B and the SW-3B. I will be reviewing an MTR-4B soon, but based on my experience with the MTR-3B, I don’t think you could go wrong with either radio, frankly.

The MTR-4B does allow for a total of 3 CW message memories that are very easy to access and include beacon mode. You can also adjust the sidetone volume on the MTR-4B (requires opening the enclosure to make the adjustment). Obviously, the MTR-4B is a four band radio including 80 meters in addition to 40, 30, and 20.

The SW-3B, however, has an AF and RF gain control–the MTR series has no volume control at all. The SW-3B also has a rotary encoder which makes chasing contacts across the band much easier.

The MTR-4B receiver current is roughly 27 milliamps. The Venus SW-3B closer to 40 milliamps. (Yeah, splitting hairs here!)

Stay tuned!

In the coming weeks, I will be posting a number of activation reports and videos using the SW-3B. As I mentioned, I’ll also post a comprehensive review for The Spectrum Monitor magazine in the coming months.

I can say this: if you’re a CW op who is searching for a compact field radio?  The SW-3B is a no-brainer. Just grab one.

If you still can’t decide between the MTR-4B and the SW-3B, consider getting both. Why? You could easily kit out two independent fully self-contained field packs on the (relative) cheap!

This will give you two choices for grab-and-go field activations.

Thank you

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

Your support not only pays the bills at QRPer.com, but makes it possible for me to purchase radios like the SW-3B.

Thank you!

I hope you get an opportunity to play radio this week.  Stay healthy and safe out there!

Cheers & 72/73!

Thomas (K4SWL)