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:
In the video below, I actually demo how I used my arborist throw line to deploy the EFT-MTR antenna.
On The Air
While the weather and the POTA site were ideal, propagation was not. I knew that going into the site and that’s exactly why I deployed a near resonant wire antenna instead of a vertical. I say “near-resonant” but the EFT-MTR is actually a resonant antenna on 40, 30 and 20 meters–I repaired mine recently, however, and it affected the resonance. I need to take an antenna analyzer to it and sort that out. In the meantime, though, I simply used the mAT-705 Plus ATU to take the edge off of the SWR.
I ended up only using the 40 meter band to make my 11 contacts in the span of about 33 minutes. Considering the propagation and the fact it was a Monday mid-afternoon, I was pleased with the results.
If I had the time, I would have moved up to the 30 and 20 meter bands, but again, I had a schedule to maintain so I went QRT after working my buddy K8RAT.
Here’s a real-time, real-life video of the entire activation:
I’m definitely coming back to the New River State Park later this year. In fact, I think this would be an ideal spot for a family canoeing and camping trip.
As I’ve said so many times before, this is what I love about POTA and WWFF: they provide an excuse to check out public lands that wouldn’t normally be on my radar. New River is a perfect example since it’s a little too far from the QTH to be a day trip, yet a little too local to be a destination we’d typically plan in our cross-country travels.
Last Monday (March 22, 2021), I had another opportunity to play radio for the bulk of the day. These are rare opportunities–although I did have another open day only a few weeks ago–so I ty to take full advantage of them! The weather was perfect, so I decided to make a detour to Ashe County, North Carolina en route to visit my parents.
I haven’t been to Ashe County in the better part of a decade although I love this pretty secluded part of western North Carolina.
Ashe County is very much a destination–not a place you’d easily happen upon in your travels. It’s very much worth the detour, though, as it’s close to Boone/Blowing Rock, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a number of other spots outdoor enthusiasts would love. The towns of Jefferson and West Jefferson are everything you’d expect from small town NC: charming and friendly. Plus, they have some excellent sources of cheese!
I plotted a three park, one summit run for that Monday. I’d have about one hour at each site, which would hopefully be enough to set up, play radio, and pack up. All three sites were new to me–meaning, I had never personally activated them.
My first destination?
Three Top Mountain Game Land (K-3869)
I left my QTH around 9:00 local and arrived on site around 11:30. I had researched the most accessible parking area (there were many for this game land) and one that would be closest to my other destinations.
The game land maps are pretty accurate, but this parking area was a little tricky to find as it’s small, elevated off the road, and you have to enter a private driveway to find it. the “Hunters Parking” sign is, let’s say, “discreet.”
Honestly? Finding these sites is all part of the fun.
Going into this activation, I knew there would be challenges. For one thing, propagation was similar to the day before: poor and unstable.
Secondly, the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) auto-spotting functionality on the POTA spots page was not working. That was a bad thing because this game land site had no hint of mobile phone service.
I did anticipate both of these issues though, and took precautions:
I contacted my buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Eric (WD8RIF) and gave them my full schedule with anticipated start times for frequencies at each location before leaving the QTH.
I also had my new Garmin InReach satellite messaging device that I could use to text Mike and Eric should they not be able to hear me that day.
As I’ve mentioned in previous post: successful activations (especially if you’re under time pressure) always include being spotted to the POTA network. It’s as if you don’t exist if you’re not spotted.
Another thing working in my favor at this particular site is that it had only been activated a couple times before and both of those times it was via phone only. My activation would be the first time CW had been used at this site for POTA. This means nothing in terms of the Parks On The Air program–meaning, there are no special awards for this sort of thing–but it does give you a bit of an edge because CW hunters will find the site rare and very desirable. They’ll go the extra mile to get logged.
It’s funny: in 2020, I activated numerous proper ATNOs (All Time New Ones) for POTA. There were so many here in western North Carolina that just by going to new sites each time, I ended up activating them for the very first time in phone and/or CW.
POTA grew by orders of magnitude last year, though, and now there are so many activators who would love to be the first to activate a site, new entities are often activated within a day of being added. The only true ATNOs left in NC are game lands that have accessibility issues.
On The Air
I deployed my EFT-MTR antenna that I repaired that weekend. I did a very basic repair, attaching the top end of the radiator back to the in-line coil/trap. Somehow in doing this I changed the antenna enough that my SWR on 40 and 20 meters was in excess of 2.5:1.
No problem: I employed my T1 ATU to bring the SWR back down to 1:1.
I hopped on 40 meters and immediately started working stations. No doubt, the rarity of this park was providing my spot with a little extra attention.
In 23 minutes, I worked a total of 20 stations: that’s about as good as it gets, especially with poor propagation.
Once the initial group of hunters died down, I went QRT.
Normally, I would spend more time on-site and move up the band, but I was on a tight schedule and realized I hadn’t allowed any time to grab a to-go lunch!
I did make another real-time, real-life video of the entire activation from start to finish. If you care to watch it, click this link to view on YouTube, or watch via the embedded player below:
Thanks for reading this report. Three Top was a fun activation and I was very happy I didn’t have to struggle to validate it. The next park that day was Mount Jefferson which also happened to be a SOTA site. I’ll be posting the report and video later this week!
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!
Last week, I had a hankering to visit a site I hadn’t activated in a few months: South Mountains Game Land.
This game land is pretty vast and has a number of entry points, almost all of which are very accessible. When I re-visit a site multiple times, I like to try different entrances when I can because it gives me a chance to check out a site better and, frankly, even enjoy a little light off-roading.
I found a western road leading deep into South Mountains from the Wildlife Resource Commission map and decided to explore it and do a quick activation.
South Mountains Game Land (K-6952)
I avoid activating Game Lands on days when I suspect there will be a lot of hunting. Tuesday afternoon was *not* ideal for hunters. Besides being the middle of a work day, it was cold and very gusty.
As I drove about 4 miles into the site, I didn’t see a single car or truck parked in any of the parking areas. I could tell I had the place to myself.
A Few Precautions
It goes without saying that if you’re doing a POTA or SOTA activation in a rural/remote area that has no mobile phone coverage (quite common at the ones I activate), you really need to take a few precautions.
First of all, let someone else know where you’ll be and how long you plan to be there. I always let a couple radio friends know where I’ll be so if I don’t show up on the air or they don’t hear from me, they could contact authorities to look for me.
Secondly, always take a proper first aid kit. If you get hurt, you need a way to apply first aid until you can get help.
Take a handheld radio with local repeater frequencies pre-loaded. Even though I might not have cell phone coverage, I can almost always hit at least one repeater.
Of course, carry a little food and water with you and make sure your vehicle has fuel as well.
Always wear a high-visibility vest, jacket, and/or cap. Many game lands require these. Besides, would you rather perform and activation or get shot? I don’t like getting shot. I also don’t like the idea of being bear food, so at least pack a little bear mace if you’re in bear country.
When I’m activating a game land I don’t hike deep into the woods. In fact, I try to stay on or very close to a parking area. Even though POTA is becoming a very popular radio activity, I can promise that you’ll likely be the first POTA activator most hunters will see. It’s a good idea to be near areas of activity like a parking spot or road where they’re much less likely to be hunting.
Finally, as I mentioned before, I personally do not activate game lands on busy hunting days.
Of course, check the weather forecast in advance.
On The Air
I found a great spot to set up my station near a ridge line deep in the game lands.
Normally, I’d set up right next to my car, but Tuesday the winds were very gusty so I found a semi-protected area maybe 10 yards off the road. I located a spot with the least amount of overhanging branches (always check for widowmakers and dead trees!).
It only took me five minutes to deploy the Chameleon Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna with my arborist throw line.
Random wire antennas require tuners, so I employed the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus.
This site has no mobile phone coverage, so I had no easy way to spot myself to the POTA spots page had I decided to do a little phone/SSB operating. I decided to stick with CW as the POTA spots page will auto-spot me using my information from the Reverse Beacon Network (as long as that system is working).
It’s so rare that I do activations around noon or early in the afternoon, so I decided to start on 20 meters just to see if I could snag a European station.
I felt pretty chuffed to quickly snag the Azores (CU3BL) and a few west coast stations with my 5 watts and a wire. QRP rocks!
I then moved to 40 meters where I worked a number of stations in succession and topped off the activation with one 30 meter contact.
Here’s a QSOmap of this activation:
Not bad for about 40 minutes on the air.
I also made one of my real-time, real-life videos of the activation. Note that my camera died on me perhaps five minutes before I completed the activation, so it will end abruptly. Sorry about that!
My ankle is healing nicely so I’m feeling more comfortable with the idea of hiking again. I’m plotting a SOTA activation with my daughter in the coming weeks.
This Saturday (Jan 30, 2021), I had a small window of opportunity to perform a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation. My park options were limited because I needed to stay near my home and a store where I was scheduled to do a curbside pickup.
The only viable option–since time was a factor–was my reliable quick hit park.
The Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
I plotted a quick trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center which is centrally-located and, this time of year, there are few visitors.
But what radio take? It had been a couple of weeks since I used the IC-705 in the field, so I decided to take it and rely only on its supplied BP-272 battery pack.
My buddy Mike (K8RAT) had warned me only a few minutes before my departure that propagation was pretty much in the dumps. I’d also read numerous posts from QRPers trying to participate in the Winter Field Day event and finding conditions quite challenging.
Saturday was the sort of day that I should’ve deployed a resonant wire antenna and made the most of my meager five watts thus collect my required 10 contacts in short order.
And that’s exactly what I didn’tdo.
You see, a really bad idea popped into my head that morning: I had a hankering to pair the IC-705 with my Elecraft AX1 super compact vertical antenna.
This made absolutely no sense.
I tried to get the idea out of my head, but the idea won. I suppose, at the end of the day, I’m not about taking the easy path (and I’m obviously a glutton for punishment).
I was also very curious if the mAT-705 Plus external ATU could tune the AX1 on 40 meters. More on that later…
I arrived on site a few minutes before noon. Setup was fast–that’s the big positive about using the AX1.
Normally, I deploy the AX1 antenna with my KX2 or KX3 and simply attach it to the BNC connector on the side of the transceiver. The AX1 Bipod gives the antenna acceptable stability during operation.
The IC-705 also has a side-mounted BNC connector, but it’s much higher than that of the KX3 or KX2. I’m not entirely sure I could manipulate the Bipod legs to support the antenna without modification.
That and the AX1 needs an ATU to match 40 meters (where I planned to spend most of the activation). Since the IC-705 doesn’t have an internal ATU, mounting it to the side of the transceiver really wasn’t an option.
I employed my AX1 tripod mount for the first time. On the way out the door, I grabbed an old (heavy) tripod my father-in-law gave me some time ago and knew it would easily accommodate the super lightweight AX1.
On The Air
I first tried using the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus ATU to tune the AX1 on 40 meters.
I tried both the phone and CW portions of the 40 meter band, but the mAT-705 Plus simply couldn’t find a match. SWR was north of 7:1 – 9:1.
Instead of grabbing the Chameleon MPAS Lite or 2.0 from the car, I decided instead to see if the Elecraft T1 ATU could tune 40 meters.
In short, I logged my ten contacts to have a valid activation, but it was slow-going. All but two of my contacts were on 40 meters CW. The last two logged were on 20 meters CW.
It was a challenge, but I really enjoyed it! And, frankly, considering the propagation, 5 watts of power only using the IC-705 battery pack, and the inherent inefficiencies using a loaded compact vertical antenna and ATU? I was impressed.
Here’s a QSOmap of my 10 contacts:
I bet my effective radiated power was closer to 2-3 watts.
Typically, the AX1 antenna acts almost like an NVIS antenna on 40 meters, but Saturday it favored Mid-Atlantic and the states of IN, OH, and PA. Normally, I would expect more of a showing from the states surrounding North Carolina.
My last two contacts on 20 meters were with KE5XV in Texas and KB0VXN in Minnesota. Not a bad hop!
It took longer to collect my ten contacts than I had hoped and I ran nearly 25 minutes late to my curbside appointment. I’m a punctual guy, but there was no way I was leaving without my ten! 🙂
Here’s a video of the entire activation. Hint: it’s the perfect remedy for insomnia:
Next time I try to pair the IC-705 with the AX1 antenna, I think I’ll try adding a couple more ground radials and see if the mAT-705 Plus can more easily find a match.
One thing I know for sure: the T1 is a brilliant little ATU. While the mAT-705 Plus was never designed to do this sort of match, it’s comforting to know the T1 can.
I’m very curious if anyone else has paired the Elecraft AX1 with the Icom IC-705 or other QRP transceivers. If so, what was your experience? Please comment!
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 .
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
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.
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:
I set the top right switch to “GROUND” if using coax feed line and “LINK” if using a balanced line.
Set the added capacitance switch “ADD” to “0”
Set the TUNE/OPERATE switch to OPERATE
I set both capacitors to middle positions (6 on the scale)
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
If the antenna is particularly challenging, I might add 250 or 500PF via the ADD switch
Set the TUNE/OPERATE switch to TUNE
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)
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.
The most affordable option listed here
Very wide matching range
Portable and very lightweight
Requires no batteries for operation
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
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.