Category Archives: Reviews

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!

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.

POTA Field Report: Reviewing the MFJ-1984LP EFHF with the Icom IC-705 at Lake James State Park

I’ve been a ham radio operator since 1997, but until 2016, I had never purchased a pre-made portable antenna–I had always built my own.

During the 2016 NPOTA (National Parks On The Air) program, however, I purchased the EFT Trail-Friendly end fed 40, 20, and 10 meter resonant antenna and it quickly became my favorite field antenna. I found that it was simply built better than I could have built a similar antenna at home.

Pre-made antennas, though, come at a cost. Most time-tested, trail-friendly, portable antennas will typically set you back $90 US or more. You can make similar antennas much cheaper especially if you already have some of the parts (wire, toroids, RF ports, enclosures, etc).

Recently, while browsing the MFJ catalog, I stumbled upon the MFJ-1984LP End Fed Half Wave wire antenna designed for for field use and retailing for only $49.95 US.

That price point is very attractive because I believe if I built this antenna myself and needed to buy new parts, I might easily sink $20-25 in it.

Most MFJ products are manufactured in the USA and the company has an incredibly extensive and diverse selection of items in their catalog. Why I had forgotten they also sell antennas is a mystery to me.

MFJ is well-known for offering products that are basic,  affordable, and accessible (they’re available directly from the manufacturer and through most major radio retailers across the globe). I wouldn’t expect their antennas to be engineered like Chameleon Antenna, for example, but I would expect them to work well and get the job done.

I know the folks at MFJ and (in the spirit of full disclosure) they even sponsor QRPer.com, so I reached out to them and asked if I could evaluate their MFF-1984LP which is their most affordable field wire antenna.  They kindly sent one my way and I took it to the field last week.

I should add here that MFJ welcomes critical reviews, which is one of the reasons I asked them to be a sponsor. That and, well before they knew me, I was an anonymous customer and they repaired my MFJ roller inductor tuner for free a good two or three years after the warranty expired. My experience with MFJ has only been positive.

First impressions

The antenna looks exactly like the product photo in their catalog (see above).

For a field antenna, the coil enclosure is a little on the large side (especially compared with my EFT Trail-Friendly), but it’s still very backpack-able. Knowing MFJ, they kept costs at bay by using one of their standard enclosure boxes for this antenna.

The enclosure also has an open grill to allow the coil to dissipate heat (see above). I found that a bit surprising since the core is so large inside, but I assume some heat must be generated if you’re running 50% duty at a full 30 watts (the maximum rated power). The matching network impedance ratio is 49:1, so there will be loss and heat.

The 66 foot radiator wire has a dark jacket that glides nicely over tree limbs and doesn’t encourage tangling when unwinding.

The end insulator is made of a thin plastic/composite material that is lightweight and shaped so that it won’t snag on tree limbs.

To the field!

Hey–the proof is in the pudding, right? Let’s put this antenna on the air and make a real-time video of the activation!

Last Wednesday (February 17, 2021), there was a break in the weather so I made a detour to Lake James State Park (K-2739) en route to visit my parents for a few days. I left the house without deciding what park to activate, but picked Lake James because I knew I would have access to tall trees and my pick of operating locations.

Gear:

Deploying the MFJ-1984LP is no different than deploying any other wire antenna. It was super easy using my arborist throw line. That thin, rounded end insulator did certainly glide through the tree branches with ease. No hint of snagging.

On The Air

I connected the antenna directly to my IC-705 with no ATU in-line. Hypothetically, I knew this antenna should be resonant on 20 meters where I planned to start the activation.

Keep in mind that pre-made antennas are often designed to be a tad long and need to be trimmed so the operator can tweak the resonant point for their preferred spots on the band. Since I tend to use the lower part of the band for CW, I typically leave my antennas with a resonant point somewhere on the upper side of the CW portion of the bands. It’s not super critical for EFHW antennas because they tend to have ample bandwidth to give a full meter band good matches.

I had not trimmed the MFJ-1984LP, but decided it should be “resonant enough” for my purposes.

I found a clear frequency on 20 meters and checked the SWR. It was spot on at 1.3:1 on 14,031 kHz! Woo hoo!

I started calling CQ and collected several stations in short order despite the poor propagation that day.

I then moved to the 40 meter band and discovered the antenna also gave me an excellent match there. I started calling CQ POTA and was rewarded with a steady stream of contacts.

I imagine I could have racked up a lot of contacts at that activation, but I made up my mind that I wanted to fit in another quick activation afterwards, so cut it a bit short.

In the end, here’s a map of my 18 contacts made in 26 minutes of on-air time:

Not bad for five watts and a wire!

Video

I made a real-time, real-life, no edit video of this activation which starts shortly after I deployed the MFJ-1984LP and ends a few moments after my last QSO. Against my better judgement, it includes all of my mistakes (including my inability to form the number 4 that day!):

Click here to view on YouTube.

MFJ-1984LP summary

No antenna is perfect and each time I start a product review, I keep a list of pros and cons. Here’s my list for this EFHW antenna:

Pros:

  • Very affordable at $49.95
  • Effective: results so far have been excellent
  • EFHW is a proven field antenna design and resonant on several bands
  • No coil on the radiator to snag in trees (see con)
  • Backed by MFJ warranty
  • Purchase supports US manufacturing

Cons:

  • Bulkier than comparable low power field antennas
  • No built-in winder (MFJ should consider altering the design to include one!)
  • Radiator is 66 feet long since there is no in-line coil to electrically shorten the length (see pro)
  • End insulator is effective, but feels slightly flimsy

In the end, there’s no magic here: the end fed half wave is a time-tested, proven antenna design and the MFJ-1984LP delivers. In terms of performance, I couldn’t be more pleased with it right out of the box. This isn’t a military-grade antenna, but it should last for years with proper use.

POTA activators that have access to trees in the field will appreciate the MFJ-1984LP. I should think you could also make an effective “V” shaped antenna if you have a telescoping support that’s 29-33′ tall.

I’m not so sure the average SOTA operator would find this antenna design as convenient–especially on high summits where you’re near or above the tree line. It could be difficult deploying a 66′ wire. That and this antenna is bulkier than other designs. If you’re backpacking it in, you typically want the most compact solution possible (this is where the EFT Trail-Friendly, Packtenna, and QRPguys designs really shine).

I will certainly employ the MFF-1984LP regularly–especially on days with less-than-stellar propagation.  I think this might become a go-to antenna for the MTR-3B, LD-11, and IC-705 since all of them lack an internal ATU.

If you’re looking for an affordable, effective wire antenna, I can certainly recommend the MFJ-1984LP.

Do you have an MFJ end fed half wave antenna? What are your thoughts?

Click here to check out the MFJ-1984LP at MFJ’s website, and click here to download the PDF manual.

Choosing the best Icom IC-705 portable external antenna (ATU)

I’ve received no less than three inquiries this weekend from readers who are seeking advice about purchasing a portable external ATU to pair with their Icom IC-705 transceiver.

Fortunately, there are few options on the market and I believe there is no “right” one because choices are really based on operator preferences.

I’ll do my best to sum up my thoughts below based on the three ATUs I regularly employ and what we know so far about the AH-705 ATU from Icom.

Keep in mind this list will not include some excellent options from LDG, MFJ, and other companies simply because I haven’t used them in the field. Please feel free to add your comments if you have experience with other good options.

Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus

The Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus is the first external ATU on the market that directly pairs with the Icom IC-705 via a control cable.

Note that I had issues with the first iteration of the mAT-705 and could not recommend it.

The latest iteration–the mAT-705 Plus–is the ATU I can recommend.

Be careful if purchasing an mAT-705 used as you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the Plus version. The Plus version has a USB-C charging port on the front panel (seen in the photo above)–the original mAT-705 does not (it uses replaceable 9V cells).

Pros:

  • Perfectly pairs with the IC-705 for full CAT control
  • Wide tuning range
  • Tuning is fast and relatively quiet
  • Numerous memories making repeat matching rapid
  • Internal rechargeable battery
  • Rugged chassis

Cons:

  • Cannot be paired with other radios without modification (not recommended by the manufacturer)
  • At $220 US, it’s not the cheapest option
  • Because the IC-705 relies on CAT control for operation, if you leave the control cable at home or on a park bench, you will not be able to operate the ATU. (Pro)Fortunately, the CAT cable is a simple 3 conductor 1/8″ stereo patch cable.
  • Not weather-proof

Click here to see the AH-705 Plus in action and read a deeper review.

Summary: If you’re looking for an ATU to take full advantage of IC-705 CAT control, the mAT-705 Plus is a great option. The only significant disadvantage of this ATU is the fact that it only pairs with the IC-705 (or possibly other Icom transceivers with similar CAT control). In other words, you can’t pair it with other QRP transceivers you might own.

Click here to check out the mAT-705 Plus at Vibroplex, DX Engineering, Wimo, and Mat-Tuner.

Elecraft T1

The Elecraft T1 has been on the market for at least 16 years and is one of the most popular portable antenna tuners on the market.

Elecraft offers the T1 in kit form ($159.95) and factory assembled/tested ($189.95).

The Elecraft T1 has a CAT control port that has been used with the FT-817 in the past. Elecraft recently announced that they will also produce an IC-705 CAT cable that will allow full pairing with the IC-705 transceiver (much like the mAT-705 Plus above). 

To be clear, though, the T1 doesn’t need a control cable to function: simply press the TUNEe button for one second, then key your transceiver.

Pros:

  • Very wide tuning range
  • Soon it will have an IC-705 CAT connection cable option
  • Uses common 9V battery that is easy to replace in the field. (Con) Not internally-rechargeable like the mAT-705 Plus.
  • One of the most compact automatic ATUs on the market
  • Pairs with any 0.5-W to 20-W transceiver covering the 160-6 meter bands
  • FT-817 Remote-Control Option

Cons:

  • Front panel buttons need protection while in your pack to prevent accidental pressing that will deplete the battery. I 3D-printed this simple cover that works brilliantly.
  • Not weather-proof

Summary: The Elecraft T1 is my personal favorite. Since the T1 pairs with any QRP transceiver, I love the flexibility. The T1 has also been on the market for ages and is a solid, safe choice–we know longevity is benchmark. I’ve never been in a situation where the T1 couldn’t find a reasonable match.

I will certainly test the new IC-705 control cable option when it is released in the near future–stay tuned.

Click here to check out the T1 at Elecraft.

Icom AH-705

Photo by Icom Japan

Disclosure: I have not tested the AH-705 yet, but Icom plans to send me one on loan for review once available in North America.

We do know a bit about the AH-705  because Icom has published details/specifications and some users in Japan have already received units from the first production run.

The AH-705 is Icom’s custom ATU designed to perfectly pair with the Icom IC-705 via control cable. If you want an all-Icom setup, this is it.

Pricing in US dollars is TBD at time of posting, but the announced retail price is $350 .

Pros:

  • Perfectly pairs with the IC-705
  • Wide tuning range
  • 2-way power sources using alkaline batteries (2 x AA cells) or external 13.8 V DC
  • IP54 dust-protection and water resistance construction
  • Could (potentially–?) be permanently mounted outdoors at the antenna feed point as a dedicated remote tuner

Cons:

  • In terms of overall size, the AH-705 appears to be the largest of the portable ATUs mentioned here
  • It doesn’t appear AA batteries can be recharged internally
  • The AH-705 may (we don’t know yet) only work with the IC-705 and possibly similar Icom models
  • The maximum power handling of the AH-705 is 10 watts–if you use other transceivers (if that is even possible) you would have to be extremely careful with power settings.
  • The AH-705 is pricey if the actual retail price ends up being near the projected $350 mark. Hopefully, it’ll be much less than this.
  • Like the mAT-705 Plus, the AH-705 will require a control cable for operation. (Pro) Of course this means it pairs perfectly with the IC-705 and can follow frequency changes without RF sensing.

Summary: Keep in mind, I have not tested the AH-705 yet, so this is only based on announced specifications.

The strongest selling point for the AH-705? Since the AH-705 is designed to be dust and weather resistant, it could be mounted at the antenna feed point. At home, perhaps it could act like an externally-mounted, remotely-controlled antenna tuner. I’m not sure what the maximum length of the control cable could be, but Icom Japan even lists a 16 foot control cable as an accessory. Of course, you would still need to follow Icom’s guidance about protecting the antenna, transmitter and control cable connection points.

The biggest negative to me is the size. Just check out how large it is compared to the IC-705 in this video. It’s still very portable, but the other ATU options above are much smaller.

Still: if the AH-705 is great at matching antennas and the price ends up falling below the $300 point, I’m sure it’ll be a very popular ATU.

For more information about the AH-705, check out the product page on Icom Japan’s website. I will test a loaner AH-705 in the field this year.

Emtech ZM-2

Another option often overlooked are portable manual antenna tuners. I’m a big fan of the Emtech ZM-2 which is offered both in kit ($62.50) and factory assembled/tested form ($87.50).

It is a manual tuner, so requires manual input to find a match. While it’s not as easy as push-button tuning, it isn’t complicated either.

Here’s my routine:

  1. I set the top right switch to “GROUND” if using coax feed line and “LINK” if using a balanced line.
  2. Set the added capacitance switch “ADD” to “0”
  3. Set the TUNE/OPERATE switch to OPERATE
  4. I set both capacitors to middle positions (6 on the scale)
  5. Tune to AM or SSB and listen to the noise floor as I tune the variable capacitors to maximize the noise level. I typically start with the left capacitor, maximize it, then maximize the right capacitor
  6. If the antenna is particularly challenging, I might add 250 or 500PF via the ADD switch
  7. Set the TUNE/OPERATE switch to TUNE
  8. In CW mode, I key down and make fine tuning adjustments with the variable capacitors to make the red tuning LED turn off (high SWR makes the red LED illuminate)
  9. Set the TUNE/OPERATE switch to OPERATE and hop on the air! (Often, I’ll double-check the SWR on my transceiver).

This sounds complicated, but once you’ve done it even two or three times, it becomes routine. I’ve yet to find a wire antenna the ZM-2 can’t match–it’s a very capable tuner.

Pros:

  • The most affordable option listed here
  • Very wide matching range
  • Portable and very lightweight
  • Requires no batteries for operation
  • Mechanically simple
  • Reliable

Cons:

  • Although not complicated, there is a small learning curve involved
  • Each time you change bands, you will need to manually re-tune the ZM-2
  • Not as fast and hassle-free as an automatic ATU
  • Not weather-proof

Summary: I carry the ZM-2 with me even if I plan to use an automatic portable antenna tuner. If my auto ATU loses power for some reason, the ZM-2 will always rescue me. Plus, it’s just as capable of making tough matches as the ATUs above.

I also love using the ZM-2 to match antennas for shortwave broadcast listening outside the ham bands.

Even if you buy an automatic ATU, I would still encourage you to buy a ZM-2 as a backup.  It’s affordable, reliable, and very handy.

Click here to check out the Emtech ZM-2.

What are your favorite portable ATUs?

As I mentioned above, these choices are just a small selection of what’s actually available on the market. Please share your favorite portable ATUs and experience by leaving a comment!

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:

Initial review of the Xiegu GSOC controller

In early November, I took delivery of the new Xiegu GSOC Touch Screen Controller which has kindly been sent to me by Radioddity on loan for a frank evaluation. [Thank you, Radioddity!]

To be clear: the GSOC is not a transceiver, it’s a control head for the Xiegu G90 and (to a limited degree) X5105. Note I recently  reviewed the Xiegu G90.

GSOC development has been closely watched by Xiegu owners since its announcement in the summer of 2020.

Frankly, I didn’t completely see the appeal myself because the price of the GSOC was projected to be around $550–at least $100 more than the retail price of the G90 transceiver it controls.

The G90, in my opinion, is a good value field radio. Not a stellar performer, but it gets the job done and the built-in ATU does a brilliant job finding matches. It’s become a very popular radio for portable field operators because of the price, the versatility, and the power output (up to 20W). It’s not a KX2, KX3, or IC-705, but it certainly provides much more than one would expect from $450.

When you combine the price of the G90 and GSOC, however, you’re pushing $1000 and that’s getting in the range of radios like the Icom IC-7300.

Not feeling the GSOC love

In short, I’ve been quite disappointed with the GSOC. It feels like a product that was rushed to market way too soon. The specs and features don’t match up to what’s been advertised yet.

Yesterday, I posted an updated evaluation of the GSOC on the SWLing Post after performing the first public firmware upgrade. If you’ve been considering the GSOC, I would strongly encourage you to read that full post.

Check out the number of images that temporarily appeared in the spectrum and waterfall.

In a nutshell, there are some major issues with the GSOC at present (December 2, 2020):

  • No documentation or owner’s manual at time of posting other than an incredibly basic quick start guide
  • CW mode is essentially unusable due to latency in the CW sidetone audio
  • Combined current drain of the G90/GSOC pair is about 1 amp. For QRP field ops, that’s a substantial number and one you’d expect from a 100W field radio
  • The spectrum display is inundated with noise and images that are not present in the G90 received audio
  • On my unit, the large encoder sticks a bit and rubs the front panel when in use. I plan to see if I can reseat the encoder knob to help.
  • A keyboard and mouse or capacitive stylus are almost required for accurate operation of the touch screen due to the size of some of the buttons.
  • Click here to view a more comprehensive list

In summary? I can’t recommend the GSOC yet and that’s why I’m posting this summary here on QRPer–I’d like to dissuade readers from grabbing one of these as a Christmas gift.

The package looks tempting, but there are too many issues that must be addressed just to achieve proper control of the G90.  I can tell that, personally, I won’t purchase the GSOC even when everything is fixed. The price point is just too high, in my opinion, for the functionality it provides. The G90 is a fun, functional little radio, but doesn’t sport the performance and receiver characteristics that I feel warrant a touch screen controller. The controller will only ever be as good as the transceiver to which it’s attached.

Do you own or have you considered purchasing the GSOC? I’d love your comments/thoughts.

Guest Review: CW Morse Single-Lever Keyer Paddle

On October 10, I took delivery of a CW Morse (https://cwmorse.us/) “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” (https://cwmorse.us/product/red-single-paddle-morse-code-key-with-base/) which Tom Witherspoon, K4SWL, had sent me to review for this website. CW Morse had sent Tom several keys to review and Tom, knowing I am a fan of single-lever paddles, sent me the CW Morse single-lever paddle to review.

CW Morse "Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base"

CW Morse "Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base", inside view

I will admit it: I wasn’t expecting much from a 3-D printed CW paddle, but I was very surprised by the quality of the build and the feel of the paddle.

The “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” is a nice mix of 3-D printed frame, lever, fingerpiece, and cover with steel ball bearings, metal contacts, steel centering springs, and a heavy steel base. (See photos, above.)

The mailman delivered the paddle on October 10  and I started using it almost immediately as a cootie-key / sideswiper to hunt Parks on the Air (POTA) activations. (A cootie-key or sideswiper is a manual key in which the operator moves a paddle alternately side-to-side to manually create the dots and dashes of Morse Code.) The paddle worked very well as a cootie and I made six POTA QSOs using the paddle on the afternoon of the 10th. Unfortunately, when I tried to use the paddle for my nightly ragchew-QSO with K8RAT, the paddle stopped centering properly and I had to switch to another key to finish the QSO. A day or two later, I studied the CW Morse key and found that I was able to loosen the nut at the lever pivot-point a little bit to reduce drag. After this simple adjustment, the paddle has worked beautifully without further need for adjustment.

The “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” features adjustable gaps on both sides of the lever. These gaps are easily adjusted using the supplied Allen wrench or with bare fingers. The spring tension is not adjustable and the paddle’s feel is pretty light.

The steel base, while small, is quite heavy and the four rubber feet provide excellent traction on my radio desk. I have a pretty heavy fist and this paddle is almost heavy enough that I can send with my right hand without holding the paddle with my left hand.

Now, a disclosure: I have been using semi-automatic bugs and fully-manual cootie keys so long now that my keyer fist is absolute rubbish. I did use the paddle to drive an electronic keyer for one ragchew-QSO and the paddle worked very well in that mode and it had a nice feel–any mistakes made in keying were not the fault of the paddle but of my own inability anymore to judge how long to hold the dash-paddle.

I’ve been using this paddle as my go-to cootie-key for over half a month now and as a cootie key the “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” excels. The gaps were easily adjustable and the feel of the paddle as a cootie is just fantastic. This key has, at least for the moment, become my favorite hamshack cootie-key.

The “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key” can be removed from the steel base for field or portable use and I did remove the key from the base to try it in this configuration. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the feel of the paddle in my left hand, primarily because the two mounting rails make the key feel awkward in my hand. CW Morse does offer a dual-lever field paddle (https://cwmorse.us/product/pocket-double-paddle-morse-code-key/) and I think a similar design with a single lever would make an excellent field paddle or cootie key. (Read about Tom Witherspoon’s experience with the dual-lever field paddle here: https://qrper.com/2020/10/pota-field-report-pairing-the-icom-ic-705-with-the-elecraft-t1-and-cw-morse-pocket-paddles/.)

Bottom Line: I have been very pleased with the “Red Single Paddle Morse Code Key With Base” and I can recommend it for any CW operator who needs an inexpensive but well-made single-lever paddle.

CHA MPAS Lite: A military-grade compact field antenna

Note: the following post was originally published on the SWLing Post

Chameleon Antenna recently sent me a prototype of their latest antenna: the CHA MPAS Lite.

The MPAS Lite is a compact version of their MPAS 2.0 modular antenna system and designed to be even more portable.

Chameleon Antenna is a specialist antenna manufacturer that makes military-grade, field portable antennas that are low-profile and stealthy. Chameleon products are 100% made in the USA and their customers range from amateur radio operators to the armed forces.

Their antennas are not cheap, but they are a prime example when we talk about “you pay for what you get.” In all of my years of evaluating radio products, I’ve never seen better quality field antennas–they’re absolutely top-shelf.

Zeta

I’m currently in my hometown doing a little caregiving for my parents. I’d only planned to be here for a couple of days, but when I saw that the remnants of Hurricane Zeta would pass directly over us with tropical storm force winds and rain, I stuck around to help the folks out.

Zeta struck quite a blow, in fact. No injuries reported, but over 23,000 of us have been without power for over 34+ hours in Catawba county. With saturated grounds, the winds toppled a lot of trees and damaged power lines.

Yesterday, I wanted to take advantage of the power outage and get on the air. I couldn’t really do a POTA activation because I needed to manage things here at my parents’ house. Plus, why not profit from the grid being down and bathe in a noise-free RF space–?

I decided to set it up in their front yard.

CHA MPAS Lite

I had never deployed the MPAS Lite before, so I did a quick scan through the owner’s manual. Although the MPAS Lite (like the MPAS 2.0) can be configured a number of ways, I deployed it as a simple vertical antenna.

Assembly was simple:

  1. Insert the stainless steel spike in the ground,
  2. Attach the counterpoise wire (I unraveled about 25′) to the spike
  3. Screw on the CHA Micro-Hybrid
  4. Screw the 17′ telescoping whip onto the Hybrid-Micro
  5. Extend the whip antenna fully
  6. Connect the supplied coax (with in-line choke) to the Hybrid-Micro
  7. Connect the antenna to the rig

Although I had the Icom IC-705 packed, I wanted to keep things simple by using the Elecraft KX2 I’d also packed since it has a built-in ATU.

Important: the CHA MPAS Lite requires an ATU to get a good match across the bands.

I wasn’t in the mood to ragchew yesterday, but I thought it might be fun to see how easily I could tune the MPAS Lite from 80 meters up.

I checked the Parks On The Air spots page and saw NK8O activating a park in Minnesota in CW:

He was working a bit of a pile-up, but after three calls, he worked me and reported a 559 signal report. Not bad at 5 watts!

I then moved to 40, 18, and 20 meter and called CQ a couple times to see if the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) could spot me. I like using the RBN to give me a “quick and dirty” signal report. I was very pleased with the bands I tested:

Those dB numbers are quite good for an op running 5 watts into a vertical compromised antenna.

The KX2 very effortlessly got near 1:1 matches on every band I tested.

Of course, after working a few stations in CW and SSB, I tuned to the broadcast bands and enjoyed a little RFI-free SWLing. Noting 13dka’s recent article, I’m thinking on the coast, the MPAS Lite will make for a superb amateur radio and SWLing antenna.

Durability

Although the remnants of Zeta had effectively passed through the area three hours prior, it was still very blustery outside. I was concerned gusts might even be a little too strong for the 17′ whip, but I was wrong. The whip handled the wind gusts with ease and the spike held it in place with no problem.

One of the things I have to watch with my Wolf River Coils TIA vertical is the fact it’s prone to fall in windy conditions and many ops have noted that this can permanently damage the telescoping whip (the weak point in that system).

I’m pretty certain this wouldn’t happen with the Chameleon 17′ whip–it feels very substantial and solid.

Ready to hit the field with the CHA MPAS Lite!

I’m a huge fan of wire antennas because I believe they give me the most “bang-for-buck” in the field, but they’re not always practical to deploy. I like having a good self-supporting antenna option in my tool belt when there are no trees around or when parks don’t allow me to hang antennas in their trees.

I’ve got a park in mind that will make for a good test of the CHA MPAS Lite: it’s a remote game land with no real parking option. I’ll have to activate it on the roadside–an ideal application for the MPAS Lite.

Click here to check out the CHA MPAS Lite.

MAT-TUNER mAT-705 woes

UPDATE: Mat-Tuner released the latest updated and upgraded version of the mAT-705 in December 2020. It’s called the mAT-705Plus. Click here to read my initial review of the mAT-705Plus. Note that the following article pertains to the original mAT-705 which is no no longer being produced, but still available for sale (at time of posting) both new and used.

Last week, I posted a review of the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 antenna tuner that is designed to pair with the new Icom IC-705 transceiver.

My initial assessment was very positive, but since then the shine has worn off. I’ll explain…

On Monday, I took the IC-705 and mAT-705 to the field for a little Parks On The Air (POTA) fun.

The Par EndFedz EFT-MTR triband (40/30/20M) antenna

Enroute to the site, I thought it would be a good test for the mAT-705 to attempt to tune the excellent EFT-MTR antenna (which is resonant on 40, 30, and 20 meters) on all bands above 40 meters.

After arriving on site, I very quickly deployed the EFT-MTR antenna using my throw line. I then hooked the EFT-MTR up to the mAT-705 ATU and connected the ATU to the IC-705.

After turning on the IC-705, I opened the menu screen and tried to engage the mAT-705 ATU. Unfortunately, the ‘705 didn’t recognize the tuner. I double-checked to make sure the control cable to the mAT-705 was secure–it was. After some head-scratching, I realized I must have left the ATU’s mechanical power switch in the “on” position while using it a few days prior.

This evidently depleted the mAT-705’s internal 9V battery. What a bummer!

I bragged about the mAT-705 in a previous post because, frankly, it is a very capable ATU–quickly finding matches from 160 to 6 meters on my random wire field antenna and horizontal loop antenna at home. It also has an incredibly sturdy aluminum enclosure.  It’s a very capable ATU in terms of quickly and efficiently finding matches and, superficially smacks of superb build quality.

Issues

But if I’m being honest, my love affaire with the mAT-705 ended Monday due to a number of discoveries.

9 volt batteries

The mAT-705 next to the IC-705

According to Mat-Tuner’s product description, the mAT-705:

“[I]s powered by an internal standard 9 volt alkaline battery. Power saving technology inside the tuner allows the use of the unit for months without replacement. No battery power is consumed by the unit when powered off.”

Turns out, they mean it saves power only with the mechanical power switch turned “off.”

This, in turn, means that the user must remember each time they use the mAT-705 to flip the mAT-705 mechanical switch off.  If left in the “on” position by accident, even with no connection to the IC-705 and while not in use, it will deplete a 9V cell in a matter of a few days.

This is a significant issue, in my opinion, and is compounded by a few other design choices:

Complicated battery removal

There is no “easy access” to the mAT-705 battery. The user must use a supplied (standard) Allen wrench and unscrew the rear panel from the chassis.

As we mentioned in our previous post, Mat-Tuner actually has a procedure for opening the case and replacing the 9V battery in order to prevent the LED illuminators from falling out. I followed this procedure to the letter, yet the illuminators still fell out. They simply aren’t secured properly and would be very easy to lose if replacing a battery in the field.

The LED illuminators

Once open, you discover that the 9V battery’s holder is a piece of double-sided tape. Seriously:

The mAT-705’s 9V battery holder

In addition, the ATU board essentially “floats” in the chassis secured in slide-in slots. The problem is the back panel–which you pull to remove the board–is only secured to the ATU board with three wired solder points.

Even when I lay the board down carefully, gravity will bend those BNC connections.

I can’t imagine this holding up with multiple battery replacements.

No external power port

Given that battery removal will take a user at least 5 minutes, I find it a little surprising that there’s no external power port.

It would be no problem at all for me, if the 9V battery died, to simply hook the mAT-705 up to my portable DC distribution panel like I can do with other external ATUs. But since this isn’t an option, you’re simply out of luck in the field. Better carry spare 9V batteries!

Where the lack of an external power port is really an issue, though, is for mAT-705 users in the shack. If the IC-705 becomes one of your main radios, you’ll have to be very disciplined to turn it on and off each time you use it, else you’re going to be replacing a lot of 9V cells.

Command connection to the IC-705 is basic

It seems to me that if you build an antenna tuner specifically to pair with a radio via a dedicated control cable, the tuner could potentially:

  • derive power from the transceiver
  • or at least be told by the transceiver to turn completely off when not actively in use. Especially since once a match is found, it’s locked into position even if the mAT-705 has no power.

The mAT-705 can’t do either.

Is it a good ATU? Yes. But inside it could be better.

As I said above, my original review stands in terms of the mAT-705’s ability to match antennas, I think it’s brilliant.

But I can no longer recommend the mAT-705 until some of these design shortcomings are addressed.

I’ve never owned a portable ATU that required so much discipline from the user in order to preserve the battery. I’ve also never owned one that was so fragile internally. Most portable ATUs *only* turn on when finding a match and then either “sleep” or turn off when not in use.

And portable ATUs like the Elecraft T1, for example? Even have a convenient battery compartment for easy removal. (And, oh yeah, the T1 will run ages on a 9V!)

The Elecraft T1 ATU 9V battery compartment

To add insult to injury, it’s one thing to discover that your mAT-705 ATU eats 9V batteries if left on but not in use, but it’s quite something else to discover your $220 ATU’s 9V battery is held in with a piece of double-sided sticky tape.

How long could this possibly function if you’re replacing batteries frequently in the field?

My hope is that Mat-Tuner will sort out this design and re-introduce the mAT-705 to the market. I’ve heard so many positive things about other Mat-Tuner models which is why I wanted to try one out with the IC-705.

Mat-Tuner ATUs are sold by respected retailers in the ham radio world (like Vibroplex, who loaned this model for review) so I expect they’ll address these concerns in the coming months. I’ll certainly post all updates here on QRPer.

Until then, I have to recommend skipping the $220 mAT-705 and instead purchasing the excellent ($160 kit/$190 assembled) Elecraft T1.

Operating the Icom IC-705 QRP transceiver in CW with full break-in QSK

Readers have been asking me about operating the new Icom IC-705 in CW; specifically if the T/R relay is noisy and how full break-in QSK sounds.

Here’s a quick video that should answer a few of those questions:

I made this video yesterday while testing the new mAT-705 ATU.

Please comment if you have other IC-705 questions.