Tag Archives: TX-500

SOTA Activation Report: Crowders Mountain (W4C/WP-011)

“It’s not the heat. It’s the humidity.”

That’s what my grandpa used to say and he was right. It was certainly the theme on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, when I decided to activate Crowders Mountain (W4C/WP-011).

If memory serves, it was about 80F/27C that day–pretty reasonable for late spring in the Piedmont of North Carolina. But the humidity was quite high. I’m no meteorologist, but I’m guessing it was 7,400%. (That number may be a bit of an exaggeration.)

Still, I was eager to fit in a decent hike and I knew Crowders would be fun and easy in the sense that I wouldn’t need to carry a map or do bushwhacking to get to the summit. In fact, Crowders Mountain is possibly one of the busiest parks I ever visit; being so close to Shelby, Gastonia, and Charlotte, it can get crowded especially on weekends.

The amazing thing about Crowders Mountain State Park, to the amateur radio operator, is that it contains not one but two SOTA summits! And, of course, the park can be activated during the SOTA activation. Earlier this year, I activated The Pinnacle–it was amazing fun–and now I was ready to activate Crowders Mountain as well.

I arrived at the park visitor’s center around 11:30 AM local time and hit the trail.

I opted to take the longer trail to the summit which is about 6 miles round trip. There’s a shorter path to the summit via the Linwood Access, but I wanted a bit more trail time despite the humidity.

The hike was amazing and the trail very, very well-worn and marked.

The hike was overall what I would call moderate and very gentle. In fact, at about 2/3 into the trail, I was curious when I’d truly start gaining a bit of elevation. Turns out: all near the very end!

The final portion of the hike was pretty steep–mostly steps up to the summit. The humidity was thick enough, I took my time going up the steps.

In the end, you will put in a bit of effort to bag this one point SOTA summit if it’s hot and humid.

Crowders Mountain (W4C/WP-011)

Having been on the summit of The Pinnacle earlier this year, there was no mistaking the summit of Crowders Mountain, since it, too, has ominous warning signs!

I’m sure the sign is in response to people acting foolishly. Crowders Mountain is not a treacherous place, but like many summits, there’re ample opportunities to fall to your death, I reckon.

I’ve heard that even the summits of Crowders Mountain can get quite busy–this is why I chose a Tuesday to do the activation. Even then, I’m guessing there were anywhere from 8-12 other hikers on the summit with me at various times during the activation that day.

I was banking on the fact that Crowders Mountain had trees, so I only packed my short PackTenna random wire–no self-supporting vertical of any sort.

After a quick site search, I found an ideal spot to play radio just beneath the radio/TV towers on the summit.

Gear:

Deploying the PackTenna was incredibly easy with my arborist throw line. I meant to make a video showing the antenna deployment, but was distracted by some curious hikers who asked a load of questions as I launched the line. Somehow, I managed to snag the perfect tree branch despite an audience and a mild case of performance anxiety!

Next, I set up the Discovery TX-500 transceiver and paired it with my Elecraft T1 ATU since random wire antennas require matching and the TX-500 has no internal ATU.

I’ll admit here that each time I use the Elecraft T1 it reinforces why I like this ATU so much: it’s incredibly compact, runs for ages on a 9V cell, pairs with all of my transceivers, and it has a very wide matching range (although, in this case, the 9:1 UNUN doesn’t need a wide range ATU). The T1 gets the job done each and every time.

As with many of my activations, I made a real-time, real-life video and didn’t edit out a thing. If I had any self-respect, I would have edited out all of my keying errors that day, because I made numerous ones.  (For the record, I blame the humidity!) 🙂

Joking aside, I’m not ashamed of my keying mistakes. We all make them. No one is a perfect CW operator and, trust me, the op at the other end can sympathize. If I let my sloppy fist sessions prevent me from operating, I’d never get on the air.

On The Air

I hopped on the 20 meter band in CW and wow! I made 30 contacts in 39 minutes.

Since I had cell phone service, I also decided to spot myself to the SOTA network and do a little SSB on the 17 meter band. I made four contacts in four minutes.

Of course, this was not only a summit activation, but also a park activation (K-2726), so logs were submitted to both programs.

Here’s a QSO Map of my contacts (click to enlarge):

 

In truth, I would have liked to hang around on the summit a bit longer and work more stations, but I needed to start my hike back to the car.  I had a number of errands in the afternoon and also needed to be back in time for a live stream interview with Red Summit RF (click here to watch the archive of that show).

As I was packing up my radio gear, two young women stopped by and one asked, “Was that Morse Code we wear hearing earlier?” I confirmed this and she looked at her friend and said, “Yes, I knew it was!” I asked them if it was the first time they’d heard Morse Code “in the wild,” and they both nodded their heads. They then asked a load of questions that I was happy to answer.

Meeting Max

One of our readers, Max (W4GZ), had asked that I contact him next time I activated Crowders Mountain State Park as it’s not too far from his QTH. I sent him a message earlier in the day and when I got back to the car, I found Max set up with his IC-705 and vertical antenna next to my parking spot.

Max had just started his own park activation.

It was great meeting you, Max!

Photos

Of course, I snapped a few photos on the summit and the trail, so here they are in no particular order:

Thank you reading this field report! I hope you have an opportunity to play a little radio in the great outdoors this week!


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Discovery TX-500 UK distributors and dealers

If you live in the UK and have been waiting for the arrival of the lab599 Discovery TX-500 transceiver, this is a positive development:

Lab599 have informed me that Nevada Radio will be the exclusive distributor of the TX-500 in the UK.

In addition, Waters and Stanton will be a TX-500 dealer and distrubutor.

The price will be £899 and both retailers are taking deposits (Nevada a £83.33 deposit, Waters and Stanton a £100 deposit) for the first delivery due in September 2021.

Click here to check out the TX-500 at Nevada Radio and here for Waters and Stanton.

Pairing the Chameleon CHA LEFS with the Discovery TX-500 at Table Rock Fish Hatchery

Last time I visited Table Rock Fish Hatchery–this activation–it was a struggle to get the ten contacts I needed for a valid activation. Propagation was horrible that day, making it a proper struggle.

On Thursday, May 20, 2021, I thought I’d go back to the fish hatchery for another try! I really like the site: it’s open, has lots of trees, and the staff (and neighborhood dogs) are all very friendly.

My not-so-QRP diesel truck!

Thing is, as I drove to Table Rock, my buddy Mike informed me that propagation took a nose dive. Earlier in the day, it had been reasonably stable, but he noted that POTA activators were struggling in the afternoon and the propagation numbers were in the dumps.

There’s a beautiful little creek next to the picnic area.

My secret weapon: The Chameleon CHA LEFS

Shortly after I posted my “unboxing” video of the lab599 Discovery TX-500, Carl at Chameleon Antenna made a comment on my YouTube channel that he was going to send me their CHA LEFS (Lightweight End Fed Sloper) wire antenna since it’s resonant on 40, 20, 17, 15, 12 and 10 meters. In many ways, it’s ideally suited to pair with the TX-500 since this transceiver lacks an internal ATU. Side note: there is a cool project in the works called the DIY599 that adds a 60 watt amp and ATU to the TX-500 . 

I had only recently received the CHA LEFS and had not yet taken it to the field. Table Rock was the perfect opportunity.

When I know in advance that propagation is poor, I try to make my portable set up as efficient as possible, so that’s when I 1.) make sure I pull out a resonant wire antenna and 2.) use a wire antenna with longer radiators. The CHA LEFS fits both of these bills.

The CHA LEFS has a 63 foot radiator made of 20 gauge PTFE antenna KEVLAR wire. The winder has a large efficient transformer to match impedance, and there is an inline coil to make the most of the 63′ radiator. They also include 50′ of Micro 90 paracord.

 

Like all Chameleon antennas I’ve used, it’s built to military specs.

Table Rock Fish Hatchery (K-8012)

Table Rock is ideally-suited for a long-ish sloping wire antenna, too. The site has tall trees and open spaces that make stretching out the sloping radiator quite easy. Just watch those power lines!

The CHA LEFS takes longer to deploy that end-fed antennas with a feedpoint near the ground. I find it quicker to deploy, however, than dipoles.

I deployed the LEFS by first stretching out its radiator wire in the direction I planned to deploy it.

Next, I connected the coax feedline to the SO-239 on the LEFS winder and stretched it in the opposite direction of the radiator. Why do this? It helps keep the radiator and coax from twisting together as I raise the winder/feedpoint into the tree.

This is not a difficult antenna to deploy as one person. Of course, if you have a helper, it’ll go even faster (I’ve yet to convince Hazel to help me with antenna deployment).

I had launched the arborist line quite high into a tree at the picnic table where I planned to operate. I was able to elevate the LEFS feedpoint/winder about 47′ into the tree.

I used the supplied paracord to attach the radiator to a nearby branch. The end of the sloper was perhaps 6 feet off the ground (if memory serves).

Gear:

On The Air

Knowing how poor conditions were from real-life K8RAT observations, I didn’t expect to actually validate my activation by logging the required 10 contacts. As I stated in my activation video, I was fully prepared to walk away with three or four contacts–I didn’t have a few hours to burn on an activation. I was simply happy to play with a new antenna, the TX-500, hang with the local canine welcome committee and enjoy the fine weather.

First, I hopped on 40 meters and discovered the LEFS provided a perfect 1:1 match on 7063 kHz. Very promising!

Next, I started calling CQ and the Reverse Beacon Network functionality of the POTA spots page must have quickly auto-spotted me.

Within 13 minutes, I logged six contacts! I was impressed. Mike (K8RAT) was in that first six contacts and he later told me it was one of the strongest signals he’d ever heard from me at a POTA activation. He asked what I was using as an antenna that day and said, “it was working!”

Next, I moved to the 30 meter band and worked K8RAT again (a rarity on 30 meters!) along with four other stations.

I ran out of time, so called it quits with 11 stations logged.

I did not expect to not only walk away with a valid activation, but to have completed it in such short order.

QSO Map

Here’s the QSO Map of my contacts all made with 5 watts of power:

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation. Next time I take the LEFS out, I’ll try to remember to include setting it up:

Loving the CHA LEFS!

Talk about good first impressions!

As Carl suggested, I’m going to keep the CHA LEFS tucked away along with my PackTenna EFHW in the Discovery TX-500 pack.

When conditions are poor, I’ll spend the modest amount of extra time deploying this fine antenna.

The only CHA LEFS criticism I noted–and it’s a minor one–is that the in-line trap/coil isn’t very low-profile and takes a little attention to make it fall in the right spot when reeling the antenna up post-activation. Seriously. A minor criticism and I’m guessing Chameleon has a reason for it being on the large size–likely for power handling reasons.

Field Day is coming up, and I think I’m going to make the CHA LEFS one of Team Baklava‘s main antennas (Team Baklava = my buddy N3CZ and me!).

As for the CHA LEFS, I highly recommend it!

The lab599 Discovery TX-500 receives CE certs

Many thanks to Don (W7SSB) who notes that the TX-500 has now received CE certification. Lab599’s European distributor, PileUpDX has posted the following message on their website:

We are happy to announce that the long process with CE certification of the TX-500 transceiver from Lab599 has finally been completed. This week the notified body contracted to do testing and evaluation issued their certificate proving that the TX-500 meets the requirements to be sold on the EU market.

Now the next step is to complete the necessary documentation and marking including CE labelling of the radio itself and its packaging. Meanwhile the production of the first batch of transceivers for the EU market is ongoing and estimated to be completed in middle of June. If everything goes according to plan we should be able to start fill first batch preorders sometime during the end of June or beginning of July.

If you are in the first batch of deliveries and have not prepaid your TX-500 we will shortly contact you with payment information.

I’ve gotten so many messages from readers and viewers in the EU and UK who have been eagerly awaiting TX-500 availability.

While this doesn’t mean immediate availability–obviously with an estimated first batch shipping end of June or early July 2021–it’s my understanding that CE certification has been a frustratingly slow process due to C-19 and a complete bottleneck for the manufacturer and distributor.

Click here to check out the TX-500 on PileUpDX.

Pairing the TX-500 and MPAS 2.0 on a beautiful morning activation of the Blue Ridge Parkway

On the morning of May 10, 2021, I had a hankering to head to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a quick park activation.

I had a particular spot in mind–one that’s only two miles or so from my QTH as the crow flies. The only wrinkle in my plan was that we were expecting rain all morning and at our house we were in thick fog and light, steady rain.

Normally when I have these conditions, I look for a sheltered site, but I thought it might be a great time to take out the TX-500 since it’s weather-resistant. Why not, right?

I packed the lab599 Discovery TX-500, my Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical, and my Elecraft T1 antenna tuner to pair the two. I also brought along some rain gear.

Although the activation site is close to home as the crow flies, it actually takes about 30 minutes to drive there. By the time I reached the site, the skies were mostly clear and the sun was shining! This time of year, it reminds me of living in the UK: if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.

Gear:

On The Air

This was very much a road side activation. The spot I chose isn’t an overlook–although it did provide amazing views–it was simple a pull-off.

This is where antennas like the MPAS 2.0 are so useful: they are self-supporting and very quick to deploy. Since I was set up right off the road, I also appreciate using verticals rather than wire antennas since the antenna and throw line aren’t in the way of others who might choose to park in the same pull-off.  I can easily deploy the counterpoise and feedline so that it’s out of the way.

As with most park activations, I started on 40 meters CW and only operated 5 watts.

I quickly racked up five contacts on 40 meters, then the band fell silent.

I moved up to 30, then 20, down to 80, back to 60 and 40 again.

About 30 minutes had passed since I was last on 40 meters, so new hunters were checking the bands. I snagged a total of seven more contacts in about eleven minutes.

Obviously, 40 meters was the only band open that morning!

A quick note about 80 meters

I get a lot of questions from readers and YouTube subscribers about my use of the 80 meter band during the daytime.

I go into more detail about this in the video, but contrary to what many think, 80 meters can be a very useful daytime band for POTA activators.

While it’s true that you’re not going to work DX on 80 meters during the daylight hours (else, highly unlikely), you can still work local and regional stations.

Keep in mind that POTA, WWFF, and SOTA activations aren’t about working DX. DX is fun and perhaps a personal goal, but it has nothing to do with success in achieving a valid activation.

Basically, any contacts–DX or local–will get you what is needed for a valid activation.

If, like me, you live in a part of the country where there are a concentration of park and summit hunters/chasers within a daytime 80 meter footprint, then hop on that band and give it a go!

I’m not sure how useful this might be for activations in sparsely populated areas like Montana or the Dakotas, for example, but along the east and west coast, 80 meters is your friend.

At this particular activation, I didn’t didn’t employ an efficient antenna for 80 meters. While I’ve made numerous 80 meter contacts on the CHA MPAS 2.0 in the past, it’s just not physically large enough to be efficient on that band.  The CHA Emcomm III Portable or another long wire antenna would have provided better results. But I knew that 40 meters and possibly 30 meters would be my best bet that day, so the MPAS 2.0 was a great choice.

Again: don’t forget about 80 meters. It’s helped me snag many an activation!

Video

Here’s my real-time, leal-life, no-edit video of the entire activation:

Click here to view on YouTube.

You might hear an audio pop when I’m keying on the TX-500. This is happening because I have the audio gain cranked up all the way for the video. While the speaker/mic can get quite loud, when I’ve got it located so far from the camera mic, I run it at 100% volume to be heard. I recently changed my CW T/R recovery time from 100ms to 400s which eliminated most of the audio popping.

Thank you for reading this field report! I hope you’re getting an opportunity to take your radios outdoors this week!


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Comparing the lab599 Discovery TX-500 and the Icom IC-705

By request, I’ve just posted another transceiver comparison video. This time, we take a look at the lab599 Discovery TX-500 and Icom IC-705 to determine which radio might better suit your needs.

As I mention in the video, I see these portable QRP radios as being in two different classes:

  • the TX-500 for operators who want the most rugged, efficient, and weather-resistant general coverage transceiver currently on the market and
  • the IC-705 for operators who want the most feature-packed high-performance portable transceiver on the market

Both radios are excellent options for hams who, like me, prefer playing radio outdoors.

Video

Click here to watch on YouTube.

What did I miss?

As I mentioned in the video, I knew I’d forget some important points while making the live recording. Here are some extra notes I wish I would have included:

SSB operation: Both radios have excellent features for the SSB operator including EQ settings for both transmit and receive which is a major plus for a QRP radio. I wouldn’t make a purchase decision based on SSB operation–both are excellent.

CW operation: CW operators will be pleased with both rigs. It’s important to note, though, that the TX-500 doesn’t have full break-in QSK like the IC-705. The TX-500 has at minimum a 100ms recovery time after keying a character. That’s a quick recovery, but not fast enough so that an operator can hear between characters formed; especially at high speeds. The IC-705 has full break-in QSK and it sounds great. Note that both the TX-500 and IC-705 use relays, not pin diode switching, so you can hear relays clicking inside the radio, but both are pretty quiet.

Protecting the IC-705: There are a number of IC-705 3rd party cages appearing on the market. These can be used to help protect the IC-705 in the field. Numerous readers and YouTube channel viewers have recommended the IC-705 Carry Cage by Peovi. From what I’ve seen, it looks to be the best of the bunch, but it doesn’t do a lot to protect the lower back portion of the radio–the part of the chassis that meets a surface. I feel like it’s not quite what I’d want, thus hard to justify $135 for it. Other aluminum and 3D printed cages seem to add too much bulk to the radio or obstruct some of the most common connection points on the sides (antenna, key, ATU control cable, speaker/mic, etc.).

TX-500 connectors and cables: The TX-500 uses GX12 mm connectors that are widely used in aviation, commercial and military applications. They’re easy to find online, but the price per each with shipping is typically around $7.00-8.00 US.  You get a better deal if you buy in bulk, but often bulk packages of 5 or more are of the same pin count/configuration. W2ENY has posted a number of accessory cables, spare connectors and even a military-style handset on his eBay store and website. The Icom IC-705 uses more standard 1/8″ and smaller two and three conductor plugs.

Receiver Performance: Based on Rob Sherwood’s receiver test data table, the IC-705 has a performance edge over the TX-500.  In the field, this difference is not noticeable. Indeed, both radios have very respectable numbers. If I had to choose one radio over the other if operating in a CW contest, for example, I’d give slight preference to the IC-705. I’ve used the TX-500 during a CW contest before, however, and found it did a brilliant job blocking tightly-spaced signals–click here to watch the short video.

Warranties: Both the Icom IC-705 and TX-500 come with a one year factory warranty. Click here for lab599 warranty service contacts and centers. Click here for Icom.

Feel free to comment if you have other specific points I might have forgotten.

Resources and links

Icom IC-705:

lab599 Discovery TX-500:

Feel free to comment and please let me know if there are other transceiver comparisons you’d like to see!

The Blue Ridge Parkway and some POTA with the TX-500 and MFJ-1984LP EFHW

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a massive national park.

This stretch of scenic road spans 469 miles (755 km) from North Carolina into Virginia and crossing 29 counties along the way.

I could activate the BRP every day for the rest of my life and find a new activation spot every single day.

But at the end of the day, I return to reliable spots that I love in particular because of the solitude, the access to trails, and of course the trees.

There are trees along the parkway I know so well, I should name them. They’re always there when I’m ready to deploy a wire antenna.

On Wednesday, May 5, 2021, I visited one of my favorite BRP activations sites that I used during the year-long National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) program in 2016.

This particular site is simply a small hill on the side of the road and at the top, there some excellent trees. There’s also a short path leading to the for the Mountains To Sea trail.

This particular spot also overlooks a valley and has a wee bit of altitude. I’m not sure how meaningful that is for an HF op, but it always seems to help.

Blue Ridge Parkway, NC (K-3378)

Of course, since the lab599 Discovery TX-500 was still so new to me, it had to come out to play.

I decided to skip using an ATU, keep things simple, and pair the TX-500 with my MFJ-1984LP EFHW (above).

Gear:

 

I started on 40 meters where I very quickly snagged my good friend, Eric (WD8RIF) who most likely saw my callsign on the RBN and kindly took a break from work to hop on the air work me 5 watts both ways. I’m willing to bet Eric was even a bit envious and wished he could have been outdoors putting parks on the air that morning. It’s fair play, though, because he’s often out doing multi-park runs while I’m working from home.

We must live vicariously through each other, right? Right.

Where was I?

Oh yes, the contacts started rolling in on 40 meters.

I worked K4NAN, KD8IE, K8RAT, N4EX, NE4TN, N9UNX, KB4PY, KC5F, KN3A, and NS4J on 40 meters in the span of about eleven minutes. I really enjoy that kind of cadence.

Next, I moved to 20 meters knowing it might not be an ideal band. I called CQ for nearly 10 minutes, then logged N6GR in New Mexico.

This activation reminded me that POTA often feels like a little impromptu family reunion as so many of the ops I logged that day were POTA friends and also enthusiastic activators.

I decided that 12 logged was a great number, so I called QRT and packed up. I most enjoyable activation!

The TX-500, clipboard, and my logging pads all tuck away nicely in the GR1’s slip-in rucking plate pocket.

Video

Of course, I recorded one of my real-life, real-time activation videos. Hazel and some very irritating flora are also featured.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Here’s a QSO Map of the activation as well:

I remember during National Parks On The Air, a hunter who worked me daily asked, “Do you ever get tired of activating the Blue Ridge Parkway?”

I told him that the BRP is so large, so diverse, and so beautiful, there’s simply no way I could ever get tired of it.


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A windy, creekside QRP activation of Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land

Lately, I’ve had quite the backlog of reviews and evaluations building up. Family life has been active–and it always comes first–but also I’ve a number of projects on the table (two kit builds, one repair, two antenna projects), four articles for various publications, two new transceivers (the TX-500 and now an X5105 on loan), and a number of family business projects. ‘Tis the season, I reckon.

Normally, I’d be in Dayton, Ohio right now enjoying a weekend of fellowship and Hamvention/FDIM insanity, but all that was cancelled this year due to the pandemic.

I’ve had a number of projects that sort of force me indoors, but I haven’t felt like doing them. Spring in the mountains of western North Carolina is truly a thing to enjoy (save the allergies)–and it’s an incredible distraction.

On Saturday afternoon, May 8, 2021, my whole family wanted a little outdoor  distraction time, so we hopped in the car and drove to a nearby spot in Pisgah National Forest.

The drive takes nearly 50 minutes even though the actual site isn’t even 5 miles from the QTH as the crow flies. The weather was beautiful, but a front was moving through bringing strong wind gusts.

I had planned to set up my activation next to our  car along the forest service road, but to shelter myself from some of the winds, I decided instead to set up next to the nearby creek, down the hill a bit.

This particular site is actually located in both Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land–they overlap, which makes this a Parks On The Air “Two-Fer”.

Equipment

While setting up next to a creek makes for a beautiful little activation spot, it also adds a lot of extra background noise. Normally, I would have used some in-ear earphones with the TX-500 for sound isolation, but (after twenty minutes on the air and against my better judgement) I decided to make an activation video at this site, so used the speaker/mic instead.

I’ve activated this site numerous times in the past and while it has tall trees and loads of spots to set up, it’s also in a pretty deep ravine, surrounded by tall ridge lines.  While this is less a problem with HF as it would certainly be for line-of-site frequencies, history has proven that it makes for a challenging activation.

I deployed my new PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna as a vertical. I’m glad I chose the PackTenna because it’s such a low-profile antenna, I knew it would be less affected by the strong wind gusts.

I also decided to employ my Emtech ZM-2 manual antenna tuner during this activation. Why? Because I had never used it with the PackTenna before. So why not?

On The Air

I hopped on 40 meters and started calling CQ. Thankfully, the Reverse Beacon Network found me and the POTA website automatically created a spot from the RBN information.

I worked four stations in four minutes! This was a much better start than I’d ever had at this site before.

Then, nothing…

About 20 minutes passed as I called CQ on 40 meters. This was going to be a challenging activation after all.

I decided to move up to the 30 meter band. I thought there might be some value in showing how to tune the ZM-2, so I started recording one of my real-time, real-life activation videos knowing that the audio might not be ideal with the rushing creek.

On 30 meters, I was able to pick up three more contacts in fairly short order, giving me a total of seven contacts. Only three more needed to validate my activation!

At least 20 minutes had passed since I was on 40 meters, so I decided to hop back down there hoping some new hunters might be monitoring the POTA spots.

Sure enough, I was able to add five more contacts in ten minutes!

My 12th contact is on the back of this log sheet: KF4YEY in FL.

I likely spent a total of one hour on the air. By the time it was over, my wife and daughters were ready to hit the road again: temps had dropped pretty quickly in that one hour time frame and the gusts were strong enough my wife was concerned it could knock some branches loose. (I was less concerned because I always check a site for widow-makers and power lines before setting up.

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life activation video starting about 20 minutes into the activation:

With such a simple radio kit, packing up was very quick.

This was my second activation with the new TX-500. I really do love this radio.

A number of folks noted in my last TX-500 video that there was an audio pop present as I keyed the radio either with my paddles or with the built-in memory keyer. I had never noticed this before, but I think I know why it’s happening. In my videos, I crank the speaker/mic volume up all the way so the audio can be heard. When I do this, the T/R relay audio pop/recovery is quite noticeable.

I think I may slow the relay recovery to something like 400ms so the audio doesn’t try recovering between characters. The TX-500 isn’t capable of full break-in QSK anyway, so there’s really no need for a 100ms recovery. I’ll also share this feedback with the engineers at lab599 as I suspect this can be sorted out in firmware. In the shack, it’s not an issue because audio levels are in the normal range, but in the field when the audio is cranked up, it’s pronounced. This also would not be an issue if using earphones, of course.

I do love this TX-500 and am very happy I’ve officially purchased it from lab599 and added it to my transceiver arsenal! Now to give it a name and make it official…


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Comparing the lab599 Discovery TX-500 with the Elecraft KX2

Since I took delivery of my lab599 Discovery TX-500, one of the most asked questions I’ve received from readers of QRPer.com and my YouTube channel is:

Which should I buy, Thomas? The KX2 or TX-500–?

I’ve also been asked which radio is “better” and which one I’d purchase if I could only buy one.

To address these questions, I decided to make a YouTube video where I outline some of the pros and cons of both radios, and compare them in terms of features especially with regard to field use.

Video

Click here to watch my video on YouTube, or use the embedded player below:

In this video, I mention a number of external sites. I’ve included them in the video description, but I’ll also link to them below:

Feel free to comment if you have any specific questions and I’ll do my best to address them!

Discovery TX-500: Attempting a speedy POTA activation with a new rig and new antenna

While I love the opportunity to head outdoors and play radio, I also love shaking up my field kit and trying different combinations of radios, antennas, and other station accessories.

When using new-to-you gear, though, a best practice is to set everything up at home before you hit the field. This way, you can confirm that you have everything you need and you can also familiarize yourself with the gear prior to activating a park or summit.

Last Sunday (May 2, 2021), I threw caution to the wind. Well, sort of.  At the very last moment, I decided to squeeze in an activation en route to my sister’s home to do some brush-cutting and yard work.

The lab599 Discovery TX-500

Basically, I was chomping at the bit to take my lab599 Discovery TX-500 to field.

You see, in August 2020, I received an early pre-production TX-500 to evaluate for one week. In that seven day span, I activated seven parks with the TX-500 and enjoyed every minute of it. Because the loan period was limited, I packed a lot of TX-500 air time that week, then wrote this review for The Spectrum Monitor magazine.

As I mentioned in a previous post, if I would have had the opportunity to buy that loaner TX-500 last year, I would have. It wasn’t an option, though, as so few working models existed at the time. Now that I had a TX-500 in hand again, I couldn’t wait to hit the field with it.

Last Sunday, the weather was beautiful in western North Carolina, but clouds were moving in and we expected scattered showers in the latter part of the afternoon. The last thing I wanted to do was my sister’s yard work in the rain, so I needed to make the activation a speedy one.

But the TX-500 wasn’t the only piece of new gear. I also recently ordered and received a PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna. I wanted to see how well it would perform, too, so I decided to pack my Elecraft T1 ATU and give it a go, too!

For the record: when you’re in a hurry, it’s not only a really bad idea to hit the field with a new radio and antenna, but to also throw the entire field kit together in 5 minutes before walking out the door.

On the drive to Lake James,  I mentally packed and re-packed the field kit trying to decide if I might have left out a crucial component (say, an adapter or cable). I also made the decision not to make a real-time, real-life video because 1.) this would surely  turn into a very clumsy deployment, 2.) I was pressed for time and didn’t want to set up the video, and 3.) I only had my iPhone with me to make the recording which would mean I would be giving up Internet and mobile phone access at the park which is important for spotting purposes.

So what did I do?

As I turned into the park entrance, I decided to make a recording of the entire activation from set up until the last logged contact.

Why would I do this to myself?

I reminded myself that the goal of my YouTube channel is simple: real-life, unedited examples of field radio operating. 

All of us, at some point, use new equipment in the field and we stumble through the process as we give the system a shake-out. So why not record it, right?

My iPhone battery had about 80% capacity. I knew if I tried to use the personal hotspot while recording the video–so that I could spot myself on the Microsoft Surface Go tablet–it would run down the battery in 20 minutes or so.  I immediately put my iPhone in airplane mode to preserve the battery.

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

I know this park quite well and assumed it would be busy on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. It was, in fact. I was confident I’d find a good operating spot, though, because they’ve a large picnic area and loads of tall trees to support wire antennas. And mid-afternoon, it was unlikely all of the picnic tables would be occupied.

Gear:

I found a nice spot to set up and deployed the PackTenna in short order.

Since my iPhone was doing video duty, I didn’t take extra photos.

I hooked up the Elecraft T1 and attempted to find a match on 40 meters.  I thought I did find a match at first, but it turns out that the T1 was in Bypass mode. I didn’t have my reading glasses handy, so thought I saw a great match on the TX-500’s display. Turns out it was floating around 2:1. Still: not a bad match.

I worked five stations, then moved to the 30 meter band. It was then I finally realized the T1 was in bypass mode. I found my spectacles, read the front panel of the T1 and remedied that in short order (I can never remember the button press combo to toggle bypass mode!).

I tuned 30 meters and got a great match.

On 30 meters, I worked two stations.

I then moved up to 20 meters where I worked two more.

Then I moved back down to 40 meters where I topped off the activation with an additional three contacts for a total of 12 as I called QRT.

I’m very grateful to my buddy Scott (KN3A) who worked me on three bands all while he was activating a park in Pennsylvania! Thanks for those P2Ps, Scott!

In fact, I’m grateful Scott took the time to work me on multiple bands because it help bring my numbers above the 10 stations needed for a valid POTA activation.

Video

QSOmap

After going QRT, I quickly packed up my gear (which was easy because there were so few parts), and started the 45 minute drive to my sister’s house. Fortunately, the rain held off the whole time I did the yard work!

I’m so happy to have a TX-500 back in the field radio arsenal.

Shortly after this activation, I officially purchased this loaner TX-500 unit from lab599. As I said in my “unboxing” video, there was no way I was sending this unit back. 🙂 Now I won’t feel bad if it gets dinged or scratched!

I’m sure the TX-500 will be in heavy rotation for a while. Please comment if you have any questions about this radio or the 9:1 UNUN PackTenna. I’d be happy to answer your questions!


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