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:
On the morning of Wednesday, March 10, 2021, I would have never guessed that by noon I would be standing on the summit of Rocky Face. That morning, I had planned to activate the summit of Baker’s Mountain–a park and summit I know very well as I’ve hike the trails there almost monthly and the mountain is a stone’s throw from my parents’ home.
That morning, when I arrived at Baker’s Mountain Park and the gates were shut, I remembered that they are closed on Wednesdays.
I was determined to hike to a summit, though, so I grabbed my iPhone and launched the SOTA Goat app, then searched for nearby summits. That’s when I noticed Rocky Face which was *only* a 40 minute drive from Baker’s Mountain. I had heard of this 1 point summit and park, but had never been there, so why not take a little road trip and explore?
Rock Face (W4C/WP-006)
It was a very pleasant drive which was made all the better by gorgeous sunny weather.
When I arrived on site, I was surprised to see just how well developed this park was. There were two different parking areas, a visitor’s center, picnic area, rock climbing face, playground, and numerous trails. There’s even a large area for outdoor events.
I took the “Vertical Mile Challenge” to the summit (which I would recommend) and was more of a workout that one might imagine for a 1 point 576 meter summit.
The trail was very well maintained. The ascent up the granite slope offered some welcome views of the surrounding area.
I was a little surprised to find some Nodding Trilliums blooming on the side of, and even on the path. A sure sign spring is on the way!
March 10th was also one of the warmest days of the year so far.
On the summit, there were actually a couple of picnic tables–a total surprise which made this SOTA operation feel somewhat luxurious!
On The Air
I set up the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon MPAS 2.0 which were still packed from a SOTA activation two days earlier at Elk Knob (I’ll post a report of that activation in the near future).
I had not charged the Lithium Ion pack in the KX2 after the Elk Knob activation, but I assumed I’d still have enough “juice” to get me through the Rocky Face activation at 5 watts.
I started by calling CQ SOTA on 20 meters. A friend told me that propagation was very unstable, so I feared the worst. Fortunately, 20 meters was kicking (40 meters much less so).
Right off the bat, I worked stations in France, Germany, Slovenia, Quebec, Spain, and all of the west coast states of the US. It was so much fun and exactly why I love QRP and playing radio in the field.
As I switched from 20 meters to 40 meters, some hikers passed by. Turns out it was my cousin and her husband–what a surprise! Of course, they had no idea what I was up to, so I ended up explaining not only SOTA, but amateur radio and why I was using CW (yeah, I cut that bit from the activation video below).
They moved on and I hit 40 meters which was hit harder by the poor propagation. Many stations I regularly work were a good 2-3 S units lower in signal strength.
I am certainly looking forward to some stable propagation eventually! Still…very, very pleased with the 24 stations I worked and the QRP DX as well.
Here’s a QSOmap of my contacts–all from 5 watts and a vertical:
Last week, we had a glorious break in the weather–it felt almost spring-like.
On my way back home after visiting my parents, I decided I would take in a quick afternoon hike. I originally planned to go to one of my favorite county parks, but I also had a hankering to get on the air and that park wasn’t a part of the POTA network.
Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)
I decided to stop by Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861) instead and make February 19, 2021 not only a hiking day, but a Parks On The Air day. Tuttle sports both excellent sites for POTA and a nice little trail system.
I decided to play radio first then go on a hike, so I pulled out an antenna that I thought would give me quick deployment and pack-up: the CHA MPAS Lite.
I also remembered that a reader recently asked if I would include the deployment of the CHA MPAS Lite in one of my real-time, real-life activation videos. So I did just that!
Deployment was quick and the mAT-705 Plus ATU did a fine job finding matches on the CHA MPAS Lite.
I started calling CQ on 40 meters and worked quite a few stations in short order. When the first batch of eight chasers was worked, I moved up to the 20 meter band and started calling CQ. My hope was that I could work at least a couple of stations on 20 meters then pack up and go for a hike.
I started calling CQ on 20 meters and was quickly rewarded six additional contacts.
Without a doubt–if this wasn’t completely obvious in my video–the highlight was working my friend John Harper (AE5X) in Texas. I’ve known John for years now and have followed his excellent blog but we’ve never managed to catch each other on the air!
Turns out, John was using his recently unboxed Icom IC-705 as well. Click here to check out his post which includes a mention of this very activation. In addition, check out his thoughts after taking the IC-705 (all amped-up with the KPA-500) on the ARRL CW contest that weekend.
Another highlight was logging CU3BL in the Azores again. To me, it’s still mind blowing that 5 watts can reach out that far. Here’s a QSOmap of the activation (click to enlarge):
In total, I logged 14 stations with 5 watts and a vertical in very short order, leaving me a full hour of hiking time! Mission accomplished!
Here’s a real-time, real-life video of the entire activation:
The hike afterwards was just what the doctor ordered, too. I’ve mentioned before that my ankle has been healing nicely after twisting it badly in December. This hike was an easy one and gave me a chance to properly test my ankle before the (epic-to-me) SOTA activation I planned with my daughter, K4TLI the following week. (More on that in a future post!)
Here are a few photos from the Tuttle hike:
If you ever find yourself at Tuttle Educational State Forest doing a POTA activation, make time to take in a hike as well. It’s a gentle hike and even the long loop can be completed within an hour at a very leisurely pace.
Thanks for reading this field report and please comment with your experiences on the air and in the great outdoors!
I thought I would drop you a line to say how much I am enjoying your posts – so much so I have subscribed.
I came across your posts while researching POTA (it is now available to hams in the UK and I have signed up for it). […]Most of my QRP sessions are pedestrian mobile but as I get older (I’m 82) I think they will become more /P.
What is quite different for me is that almost all of my operating is done from salt water marsh areas – so no trees at all for antenna supports. Of course, there are ways of getting around this problem by using masts with verticals, and mag loops. Using the readily available salt water amplifier, I’ve had quite a bit of DX success with SSB QRP. I’m now busy getting my CW up to scratch to get along better with POTA.
Here is a link to a YouTube video I made last year which shows a couple of my type of activity. It was made for a presentation so it is a bit long at 30 minutes:
73. ( or maybe that should be 72?). and Keep safe
Thank you, Tom! Brilliant presentation! Thank you so much for sharing (although you’re making me homesick for the UK). I love the idea of the sea water amplifier effect and have employed that in the past to my advantage. I wish the coast were a little closer to my QTH, but sadly it’s a good 4.5 hour drive at minimum.
Thank you and please let us know if you post new videos.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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–?] 🙂
A few weeks ago, I posted a report about doing my first park activation with the Elecraft AX1 super compact antenna. If anything, I felt the activation almost went *too* well using such a small antenna. I didn’t want to give others the impression this is all the antenna you’ll ever need–it’s just a brilliant compact antenna designed for convenience and accessibility. It’s a fun field companion and can be used pretty much anywhere.
Yesterday morning, I had a number of errands to run on the south side of Asheville and had not planned to do a POTA activation. While I was waiting on a curbside delivery, however, I was admiring the nice weather and thinking that I might venture out later in the day to do a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation. Part of me knew, though, that if I returned home, I’d get involved with projects and never make it back out to the field.
I always carry a transceiver and antenna in my car, so I opened the trunk and found my Elecraft KX2 transceiver field kit which included the Elecraft AX1 antenna. Technically, that’s a whole station! Why not give it a go–? I’m always up for a challenge.
Since I would be passing by the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way home, I quickly scheduled an activation on the POTA website via my phone so that the spotting system would know to grab my information from the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) when I started calling CQ.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
I knew this might not be an “easy” activation: I would be using a super compact field antenna that’s quite a compromise in terms of performance, propagation wasn’t exactly stellar, and I was activating a popular (hence somewhat stagnant) park on a Monday morning. Not necessarily ideal ingredients for a successful activation.
I also discovered my phone tripod in the trunk of the car, so decided to make one of my real-time, real-life, no edit videos of the entire successful or failed activation. (Hint: It turned out to be a success.)
At the end of the day, the AX1 continues to impress me. It is a compromise? Yes. Does it perform as well as a resonant wire antenna? No. Can it activate a park as well as my other antennas? Yes.
AX1 QSO Map
No doubt, part of my success with the AX1 is because I’m primarily using CW instead of SSB to complete activations. I’ve made SSB contacts with the AX1, but I’ve never completed full park activations with it yet–in truth, though, I’ve never tried.
In fact, perhaps it’s just a lucky streak, but so far the AX1 has been as effective as many of my wire antennas in terms of simply completing valid park activations in less than an hour. My signal reports aren’t as strong as they would be with, say, my EFT-MTR resonant antenna or Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna, but it’s enough to get the job done.
If nothing else, I’ll admit that the AX1 reminds me of the magic of low-power radio each time I use it. When I log stations hundreds of miles away, with such a modest station, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.
In short? It’s fun to use.
Black Friday Sale
FYI: I just received Elecraft’s latest Black Friday 2020 ad and noticed that the AX1 antenna package (which doesn’t include the 40M extension) is on sale. Click here to check it out.