Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see the new Argonaut VI and Model 418 100 Watt amplifier up close and even operate them.
Though I’ll keep my comments short–I have a l o n g day at the Hamvention ahead of me–I thought I’d share a few first impressions.
The guys at Ten-Tec were kind enough to allow me to take a few shots of the Argonaut VI and the Model 418 Amp, both in Hara Arena and at Four Days In May yesterday.
If you’re coming to the Hamvention, you will want to stop by the Ten-Tec booth. Through some sort of feat of engineering (or–as I first thought–dark magic!) they have a recorded chunk of 20M spectrum taken from a recent contest. They’re feeding most of their rigs with this spectrum IQ and you, in turn, hear exactly what each radio will sound like. Not only that, but you can operate the radio as if “live”–tuning, adjusting filters, bandwidth, notch etc. Indeed, you can use any receiver feature on the rig.
Additionally, they have one of the Argonaut VI’s hooked up to a Model 418 Amplifier. With these two linked, you can operate CW into a dummy load. Through this set-up I got a very good idea of how the Argonaut VI sounds and how well the amplifier works in conjunction.
First impressions are very positive. A few notes about the Model 539 Argonaut VI:
Very low noise floor.
Excellent audio fidelity.
The knobs, buttons and all features are quite easy to operate.
The filters (especially as tested in CW) are simply amazing. I think they are comparable to the Ten-Tec Eagle.
I like the size–slightly larger than an FT-817, much smaller than the Argonaut V.
All of the important controls are right there on the front: AF/RF Gain, Bandwidth/PBT, Power, RIT, Memories, Split, etc.
Nice touch: On transmit, the red dot in the Ten Tec Logo lights up on both the Argonaut and ‘418. See photos below.
Not many criticisms yet, but mind you, these are first impressions.
Though the Model 418 was hooked into a dummy load, I was able to get a feel for how well the amp responded while sending CW. I’m happy to say that the QSK is silky smooth. Ten-Tec has never disappointed me on this point–their QSK is a benchmark.
Tomorrow, I will post the price of the Model 418 Amplifier–as I mentioned before, the Argonaut VI pricing is at least a few months off, most likely.
Many of you asked about the omission of 12 and 60 Meters. I asked Ten-Tec about this and, in short, it was a balance of performance vs. features. Through their research, they found that 12 and 60 would be the least missed, while 160M would be a great addition (initially, they did not plan to add 160M).
In an effort to save time, I’m simply posting a load of photos below in a thumbnail gallery. Simply click on the thumbnail to enlarge each photo. Feel free to comment and ask questions if you can’t make it to the Hamvention. I will do my best to answer.
This versatile amp shows promise, and may turn out to be a really big seller for Ten-Tec. Perhaps their biggest. Here’s why:
The Model 418 amplifier will work with almost any QRP rig on the market (new or used)
Just 5 watts in, delivers 100 watts out
It covers the full HF spectrum plus 6 meters
It has 2 HF antenna inputs with a manual switch, and a separate 6 meter antenna port that is automatically engaged when you switch to 6 meter operation
It offers an easy bypass mode
It offers auto or manual band selection
Power, SWR and voltage are all displayed on the back-lit LCD panel
It offers 13.8V DC input with standard Anderson Powerpole connection
Ten-Tec will announce the price of the Model 418 at the Dayton Hamvention this Thursday. We look forward to that, and once announced, will be sure to post it here, same day.
The upshot: If priced competitively, the Model 418 is basically a little box that can turn your Argonaut V, Argonaut VI, Yaesu FT-817, Icom IC-703, Ten-Tec Cub, Elecraft K1, K2/10, K3/10, KX3, Index Labs QRP+, or most any other QRP radio on the market into a 100 watt rig. It appears to be truly plug-and-play, too, with auto band switching.
In my case, for example, this would be a very useful product. Though I primarily operate QRP, I do on occasion like a shot of extra power, such as when conditions are bad or I’m trying to bust through a particularly heavy pile-up. I rarely–if ever–run more than QRP when operating portable, though. The Model 418 could plug into my K2/10 while in the shack, and I could pump up the wattage as needed. It would also work with any future QRP rigs I may buy. When operating Field Day with my club, I could take the K2 and ‘418, which would give me a 100W transceiver without adding the 100W module to the K2, thus keeping the K2 lighter for my portable operations outside of Field Day.
Yep, as you’ve guessed, I want one already…!
Again–just to be clear–this is not idle speculation; the facts I’ve posted above, including the spec sheet, came directly from Ten-Tec today. We appreciate that Ten-Tec has provided us with the spec sheets for the Model 539 and the Model 418 prior to the Dayton Hamvention, exclusively for QRPer readers. Thanks, fellas!
I just received this update from John Henry (Ten-Tec Software Engineer) this morning:
We are making progress in several areas on the 539, it is coming along, and improving every day. We don’t have a price point we can speak about yet, as we are still trying to find the best working parts for a few of the items on the rig. And those parts, may affect our target. But still, we will surely beat the <$1k price that we have mentioned already. The speaker is now enclosed within the unit, similar to the 599. This is something that we knew we would eventually get done, just didn’t have it ready in time for the ham ventions to date. We will have a fully functional 539 on display at Dayton. Pre-orders at Dayton? I don’t think I will be confident enough on a real ship date yet to be able to take orders at Dayton. I don’t want to take orders at Dayton, promise a ship date, and then have it delayed for parts reasons. So, as soon as we know the parts are final, and FCC has passed, and we have all of the lead times and production times worked out and in the schedule, then we will be able to take orders. We do have the 539s in beta testing now, tweaking software here/there, finishing a few features, and soon will be able to send it to others for their inputs.
The Model 418 100w amp is in the hands of external beta testers, and we are scheduling production start for end of May, beginning of July. The software is basically done, but of course, we are still tweaking it by adding a bit more protection and user features. We will have those added / tested / approved in the coming week or two. Beta tester input is extremely positive and they are sure we have a big hit on our hands because of everything that this amp provides is phenomenal.
John plans to give me another update just prior to the Dayton Hamvention.
Several of you have written in asking me about updates on the status of the Model 539 and Model 418 from Ten-Tec. I asked Ten-Tec Software Engineer, John Henry, for an update. Here is his response:
We have ordered and are building what we think will be representative of the final production boards for the 539. We may have one more board spin for one or two boards, but hardware wise I believe we are in pretty good shape. Software, we are still in development of the firmware for the rig, but we are making real good progress. Timing, not sure yet, but it is in process along with several other new items.
Regarding the 418, we have two more tweaks to the firmware to make. The hardware is finished, and being released to production. We are ordering parts, and plan to be at least taking orders around mid May, if not shipping by then. We passed the testing for FCC, and are in the process of getting the paperwork through FCC. We had a lot of positive input on the 418 at Orlando Hamcation, so we expect the 418 to be a hit with QRPers that also want to use their QRP rig to go 100watts occasionally.
The much-anticipated Ten-Tec Model 539 QRP transceiver and Model 418 100 watt amplifier are described in the following interview with Ten-Tec conducted by Tom Witherspoon, K4SWL, of QRPer.com. For those who are interested, the “Ten-Tec” in the following interview transcription is actually a collective of three gentlemen, namely, Ten-Tec representatives Jack Burchfield (President of Ten-Tec), John Henry (Ten-Tec Software Engineer), and Stan Brock (Ten-Tec Sales/Marketing).
Model 539 QRP transceiver
QRPer: Will the 539 offer 160 meters? Some readers noticed that the Model 418 amplifier lists 160M as a feature, but the Model 539 doesn’t. Ten-Tec: 160 Meters is a possibility on the Model 539, and Ten-Tec is looking into it.
QRPer: Could the 539 offer 6 meters at some point? Ten-Tec: We doubt this will be included.
QRPer: How about 60M? Ten-Tec: Probably not.
QRPer: One reader asked if ithe Model 539 would have the 0.5 to 1.6 MHz AM broadcast band. Is this a possibility? Ten-Tec: Yes, though still to be determined, it may be possible to receive well into the AM broadcast band. The Model 539, of course, will be optimized for the ham radio bands, thus audio fidelity from an AM broadcaster will be somewhat compromised.
QRPer: We know it’s early days, but what’s the target price for both the Model 539 and 418? Ten-Tec: These are early days, indeed, but we believe the Model 539 transceiver will probably sell for less than $1000 US. As for the Model 418 Amplifier, pricing is yet to be determined.
QRPer: Will the Model 539 have accessibility built in for the blind operator? Ten-Tec: The Model 539 will be a computer controlled transceiver. Many of our visually impaired operators, use, for example, applications like Jaws to adapt our Ten-Tec gear for accessibility.
QRPer: Will the Model 539 have a built-in antenna tuner? Or as an option? Ten-Tec: Due to size constraints, we currently have no plans for this option. Following the legacy of the early Argonaut transceivers, where simplicity and performance were key, we would not want to compromise the radio’s size to add a mediocre ATU.
QRPer: Will AGC also feature an “Off” position? Ten-Tec: The Model 539 is a DSP-based transceiver, as such, there is no real “Off” position. This is really true on all HF DSP transceivers. The AGC function is a part of the DSP algorithm. With that said, if you turn down the RF gain far enough, it will act like a normal analog radio: it will not start AGCing until maybe S7 or S8. The Model 539 will have a selectable AGC with slow through fast speeds.
QRPer: So, will the Model 539 have RF as well as AF gain controls? Ten-Tec: Yes.
QRPer: Will it offer front panel adjustable side tone for both frequency and volume? Ten-Tec: Yes.
QRPer: Will it have user selectable tuning rates? Ten-Tec: Yes.
QRPer: Will it have easy-to-set VFO A=B from front panel to work split? Ten-Tec: Yes, just like all other Ten-Tec transceivers.
QRPer: Will the Model 539 have a keyer built in, and will it have memories? Ten-Tec: Yes, it will have a built-in keyer, but no memories at this point.
QRPer: An attenuator? Available on the front panel? Ten-Tec: You will have the ability to turn on or off a pre-amp. However, there will be no attenuator.
QRPer: That leads to my next question: one reader asked if the rig will have RF GAIN control rather than an ATTENUATOR, which is on the 516? Ten-Tec: Yes, with our RF gain control.
QRPer: Will the rig offer a line-level audio-out jack independent of the AF volume control? Ten-Tec: Yes, the connector is the same as the Ten-Tec Eagle.
QRPer: Computer control port? Computer controllability? Ten-Tec: Yes, the Model 539 will have a USB port for PC control.
QRPer: IF out to connect to SDR Rx for band scope use? Ten-Tec: This is to be determined.
QRPer: True FSK RTTY? Not forcing the use of AFSK. Ten-Tec: There will be capability for a sound card device that can plug into the back for PSK and RTTY. At this point, it will be AFSK only.
QRPer: How about water resistance? Ten-Tec: Let’s put it this way…if you get it wet, dry it off quickly!
QRPer: Good choices, even if they are extra cost plug-ins: Xtal and/or DSP? Ten-Tec: This is the neat thing about this radio, Tom. This will be a reflection of the Eagle. We are going to give you a roofing filter in the first IF stage. There will be two additional slots for crystal filters. We will offer 6 kHz, 900 Hz, and if you want to, you could use filters from the Eagle as they have the same board. Additionally, it will have all of the DSP filtering the Eagle has. You’ll essentially have 3 roofing filter slots and over 100 DSP filters 100 Hz to 6 kHz in roughly 25 Hz steps for the first 120 or so.
QRPer: Will these be Ten-Tec proprietary, or may third-party filters (W4RT, etc.) be used? Ten-Tec: Any third-party filter made to work with a Ten-Tec radio will work in the Model 539. The manufacturer would have to take the initiative to build the filter to match our radio. Inrad has a long tradition of working with Ten-Tec in this respect, for example.
QRPer: How about easy power output control? Ten-Tec: Yes. Selectable from 1 watt to 10 watts in 1 watt increments. Zero watts for CW practice.
QRPer: Can power adjust down to the QRPp milliwatt levels? Ten-Tec: In its current state, the rig is 1-10 watts adjustable. That is something we could look at.
QRPer: Will the 539 be tested for RF immunity when used with portable (hfpack) type operation? Ten-Tec: It is possible that these conditions could be mimicked during beta testing. We can say that all proper FCC immunity testing will be performed. Of course, it will meet or exceed all spurious emissions requirements.
QRPer: How is the rig cooled? Is it a fan that can be fully controlled, or is there a heat-sink–of substantial size to accommodate the rig when mated to the amp? Ten-Tec: With the Model 539, heat is not a major issue. It will have a heat-sink, not a fan.
QRPer: Several readers emphasized the importance of minimizing the current drain on standby and receive. They felt this was the Achilles heel of the Argo V. Is this a consideration? Ten-Tec: Current drain is a consideration, but we place the most emphasis in the following areas: performance,sound quality and ease of use. We will certainly take current drain into consideration, but will not compromise the radio’s performance in the process.
QRPer: Would you consider distributing through HRO or AES? Ten-Tec: Ten-Tec is a factory-direct retailer. We do, however, have two very unique ways to assist future customers who cannot easily drive to our retail/factory store here in Sevierville, TN. Firstly, we are unique in the industry in that we give buyers 30 full days after purchase to use our radios hooked up at their home, to their own system and antennas. If, for any reason, they are not satisfied, we will take the radio back and give them a full refund less the shipping charges. Secondly, we have a very active Ten-Tec Ambassador program with ambassadors in literally every state of the US. Simply contact an ambassador and they will help you in any way possible to get a feel for our radios. We know of no other manufacturers or retailers who offer these options.
Model 418 Amplifier Questions
QRPer: A QRPer would like the Model 418 to be easily interfaced with other QRP radios and kits with a drive level low in the one watt range. Is this possible? Ten-Tec: This is a good point, and a strong point with the Model 418 amplifier. The Model 418 will be adaptable to any QRP transceiver out there.
QRPer: Will all modes be accommodated as well? (AM, CW, SSB, RTTY, PSK, FM), including those with full duty cycle? Ten-Tec: Yes.
QRPer: For desktop use, one QRPer suggested TT could add the tuner into the amp, if there’s no room in the 539. Ten-Tec: No, we would not put a tuner inside the amp.
QRPer: What are the minimum and maximum drive levels for the 418? One QRPer has a SDR project that will output 0.5 – 1.0 watts, but also would like to use it with a 516. Assuming that with the 539 output of 10w, it outputs 100w, but what might one get with one or two watts? Are there attenuators that could be switched out for this purpose? Ten-Tec: Again, the Model 418 will work with any transceiver out there. You must keep in mind, though, that it will adhere to FCC regulations regarding amplifiers. As such, it cannot produce more than 15db gain. Five watts in will produce 100 watts out. If your transceiver produces more than 5W in—and that’s perfectly fine—the Model 418 attenuates, so that no more than 100 watts leave the amplifier.
QRPer: In your view, how will the receiver compare to an Elecraft KX-1 or KX-3? Ten-Tec: Honestly, we’re not comparing it to any radios out there. The Model 539 will be a Ten-Tec radio, as such it will be a performer, it will have excellent audio fidelity, and the Model 539 will be easy to use—at home or in the field. It is a continuation of the Argonaut legacy and has been in the works for quite some time.
QRPer: Finally, on the business side: Ten-Tec is successfully manufacturing in the US, keeping people employed in a profoundly strained economy while so much manufacturing has been relocated to Asia and the far east. How do you do it? How does Ten-Tec keep going, creating great technology instead of bending to these powerful economic pressures? Ten-Tec: Let’s face it. These economic conditions are tough for any manufacturer and we’re certainly not immune to it. Though the amateur radio market is an active one for us, we also have military and commercial contracts. We also have an enclosure business. We’re well enough diversified that if one market suffers, we have business in other markets.
The Model 539 and the Model 418 will be designed, produced and manufactured here in Sevierville, Tennessee, in the US of A.
QRPer: Jack, John and Stan—I gathered these questions from hams who contacted me through QRPer.com and I also queried several email lists. I can say that there is a lot of excitement surrounding this radio—I sorted through and compiled these questions from literally a hundred or so. Thank you so much for allowing me to approach you with these questions and for your thorough answers.
Ten-Tec: Thank you, Tom, for the opportunity. This feedback is important and it’s our pleasure to provide it.
When I traveled last week to the Ten-Tec Hamfest in Sevierville, TN, and snapped a few photos of the Model 539 and 418, I had no idea that the response from my ensuing post on QRPer would receive the attention it did. It’s truly been extraordinary. Immediately after making this post, questions about these two prototypes started piling up in my inbox.
I compiled these questions and approached several email lists to ask if they had questions. Again, the response was overwhelming.
I approached Ten-Tec with the landslide of inquiries. But, fortunately, Ten-Tec was up for the challenge, and I’m very grateful they were able to provide dedicated time to provide some answers.
While this remarkable rig cannot provide everything to everyone–and none can–my overall impression from the interview is that the Model 539 transceiver really will offer excellent performance characteristics at a reasonable price. Ten-Tec has proven with their Eagle, OMNI VII, and Orion series that the company is responsive to customer needs and updates firmware very readily. This could be a winner.
I also came away from the interview with the strong sense that, though a lot of emphasis is now being placed on the Model 539, the Model 418 amp could be, in its class, the dark horse that finishes first. Yet what would it run against? Indeed, I know of nothing else like it on the market. Speaking for myself, I have several QRP radios in both the shack and the pack that could certainly benefit from the extra watts it could provide, should conditions prove unfavorable during a rag chew.
You might just note that I’ll continue to keep in touch with Ten-Tec and provide any public updates here on QRPer.com. Please subscribe to our RSS feed or follow us on Twitter.