A few months ago, Mike (KE8PTX), contacted me with info regarding his latest 3D-printed creation: a compact housing for an end-fed half-wave balun.
He called it the “Oreo Balun.”
Once printed, and after he wound the coil and installed the BNC, he sent this photo:
It’s cute, isn’t it?
He then surprised me by putting it in a padded envelope and sending it to me as a gift. Wow–thanks, Mike!
End-Fed Half-Wave antennas are popular portable antennas for a reason: they’re effective!
They’re compact, easy to deploy, and resonant.
I only needed to attach some wire to the Oreo Balun, trim it, and hit the field!
Earlier this year, my buddy Vlado and I built two doublets with some scrap wire I had in my antenna parts box. I measured the amount of wire I had left from that same spool. I knew it wasn’t enough length for a 40 meter EFHW, but I did think there was enough for 30 meters.
After giving it a bit of thought, I liked the idea of having a dedicated 30 meter EFHW. For one thing, 30 meters is a great band for field deployments and in the past this band has saved my bacon when either 40 meters or 20 meters was wiped out. Thirty meters is also a refuge WARC band during contest weekends. In addition, a 30 meter EFHW is short enough that it could be deployed on most SOTA summits (which often have shorter trees).
Fortunately, I had just enough wire for 30 meters. IN fact, after trimming the antenna, I only had about two feet of wire to spare. It’s as if I had planned it! I would have never guessed that spool of scrap wire would have made two doublets and one 30 meter EFHW.
When I take a new radio to the field, I often don’t know what to expect until I arrive at the site and put it on the air. It’s one thing to use a radio in the shack, and quite another to use it in the field.
Earlier this year, I purchased a Venus SW-3B, three band QRP transceiver after much poking and prodding from readers and subscribers. I actually contacted Dale (BA4TB) at Venus and asked for a loaner to do a review, but he had no units set aside for loans, so instead offered me a coupon code. I was hesitant to purchase yet another QRP radio–which is why I asked for a loaner–but his coupon discounted the radio enough I could even afford to splurge for expedited shipping. He made money and I didn’t have to worry about loan periods, etc. It turned out to be a win/win.
I knew I wanted the SW-3B’s maiden voyage to be a SOTA summit, but I had to wait for a good weather window.
On Thursday, February 10, 2022, I got that opportunity!
Dogback Mountain (W4C/EM-066)
I learned about Dogback Mountain from my buddy Dave (W4JL) who activated it earlier this year. He told me it was a drive-up summit and was high enough to even rack up winter bonus points.
The road had no ice on it February 10, although it was very muddy and slippery in spots. Made for a very enjoyable drive in the Subaru, although post-activation you would have never guessed I’d washed the car the day before!
I arrived on site and parked the car at a pull-off that was well within the activation zone of the summit. Dave was right: this summit was very accessible (well, as long as your vehicle has a bit of clearance–this isn’t a road for sports cars or low sedans).
Wow, Steve! I would love to be in Switzerland right about now. I’ve got a bucket list item to journey there someday (in summer months) and activate at least 10 summits. Having lived in Grenoble, the Alps always feel a bit like home.
I love how compact your setup is and obviously the K6ARK EFHW is doing the trick if you’re making contacts State side with QRP and during a contest competing with the big guns!
Hmmm…I’m now thinking I might grab a second Maxpedition Fatty Pouch. I just checked and Maxpedition still has the “buy one, get one free” deal on their website. The link above goes to Amazon (hence the affiliate link which my site auto-converts) because pricing is typically best there, but I believe you get an even better deal at present going directly to the source; especially if one could use two pouches!
Thanks again, Steve, for sharing your field kit photos and notes!
While I will be publishing a full activation report and video, it could be a good two weeks down the road.
I’ve gotten so many inquiries about the SW-3B, I thought I’d write up a short recap with some of my initial notes using the SW-3B in the field.
This isn’t a comprehensive review; just some beginning field notes I made for a full review I’ll write for The Spectrum Monitor magazine.
Dogback Mountain (W4C/EM-066)
I decided to activate Dogback Mountain knowing that it would easily fit in my travel plans. The views (see above) were extraordinary. Thank you for the tip, Dave (W4JL)!
This was also a shake-out for my Tom Bihn HTL2 field kit which will likely be shared with the SW-3B and Elecraft KX1. It includes everything I need to deploy the SW-3B in the field–including an arborist throw line!
I confirmed that everything in the kit worked and there were no missing components.
I paired the SW-3B with my PackTenna Mini 20 meter EFHW. This limited me to the 20 meter band, but I suspected it would yield enough contacts to validate my summit (4) and park activation (10).
I fed the Venus SW-3B with a 3 Ah 12V Bioenno LiFePo4 battery pack–my output power would’ve been about 5 watts.
In short? It really couldn’t have gone better.
I worked a total of 43 stations in 44 minutes on the air. Here’s what my contacts look like on a QSO Map (click image to enlarge):
Venus SW-3B Field Notes
Overall, the experience of using the SW-3B was brilliant.
Since this little rig doesn’t have an internal speaker, I recorded the audio with an in-line Sony digital recorder. Later, when I produce the activation video, hopefully I can blend the separate audio channel with the video successfully. (Any YouTuber worth their salt can do this, but keep in mind I’m not really a YouTuber!)
Excellent receiver for field activations. I noticed no overloading and it handled the pileups very well.
Very pleased with CW filtering.
I was able to successfully program the “CQ” button with the following message: “BK TU 72 DE K4SWL” This is huge. At one point, the SW-3B could only handle a simple CW + callsign message. I’m very pleased its only message memory slot can hold the end of my exchange. Also, it is very easy to program.
The SW-3B is incredibly compact; only slightly bulkier than the MTR-3B if you include the encoder and AF/RF gain pot protrusions.
I am loving the dedicated AF and RF gain pots.
Display is very easy to read in the field.
Changing the CW keying sped on the fly is really not an option. It’s an awkward process.
The sidetone isn’t adjustable without modifying an internal component. If I could, I’d lower it just a notch or two. As-is, it’s perfectly fine, but adjustable sidetone would be a nice feature.
When switching bands, the SW-3B defaults to saved memory allocations (not the last used frequency). If you forget and switch bands, then turn the encoder, it cycles through saves memory allocations instead of up/down tuning.
Keep in mind: this is my first activation with the SW-3B. I don’t typically form strong opinions until I’ve taken a radio on at least three or four activations and used it at the QTH extensively. With that said, first impressions are great. This radio offers much more than I would ever expect for $188.
I see why it has has become so incredibly popular among CW field activators. Now that the Mountain Topper MTR-3B is no longer available, this is a viable alternative.
I’m sure some of you may be trying to decide between the MTR-4B and the SW-3B. I will be reviewing an MTR-4B soon, but based on my experience with the MTR-3B, I don’t think you could go wrong with either radio, frankly.
The MTR-4B does allow for a total of 3 CW message memories that are very easy to access and include beacon mode. You can also adjust the sidetone volume on the MTR-4B (requires opening the enclosure to make the adjustment). Obviously, the MTR-4B is a four band radio including 80 meters in addition to 40, 30, and 20.
The SW-3B, however, has an AF and RF gain control–the MTR series has no volume control at all. The SW-3B also has a rotary encoder which makes chasing contacts across the band much easier.
The MTR-4B receiver current is roughly 27 milliamps. The Venus SW-3B closer to 40 milliamps. (Yeah, splitting hairs here!)
In the coming weeks, I will be posting a number of activation reports and videos using the SW-3B. As I mentioned, I’ll also post a comprehensive review for The Spectrum Monitor magazine in the coming months.
I can say this: if you’re a CW op who is searching for a compact field radio? The SW-3B is a no-brainer. Just grab one.
If you still can’t decide between the MTR-4B and the SW-3B, consider getting both. Why? You could easily kit out two independent fully self-contained field packs on the (relative) cheap!
This will give you two choices for grab-and-go field activations.
As always, I’d like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I truly appreciate the support.
Your support not only pays the bills at QRPer.com, but makes it possible for me to purchase radios like the SW-3B.
I hope you get an opportunity to play radio this week. Stay healthy and safe out there!
I’ve got my new Venus SW-3B all dressed up and ready for a SOTA activation this morning (February 10, 2022); that is, if all goes well. Haven’t quite decided what summit yet, but it’ll have to be one I can hit fairly easily during my travels today.
I’ll plan to do 20 meters primarily, because I’m taking my PackTenna 20M EFHW. I also have a 30M EFHW–a separate antenna that I might also give a go. We’ll see how busy things are.
I’m either going to find a summit with a good hike, or do a drive up summit, then hike later at park. Either way: my goal is some radio and hiking today.
I’ll plan to make a video of this activation if all goes well. To record the SW-3B audio, I’ll be using a small Sony digital audio recorder I found at a thrift store for $20 a few months ago. I don’t have time to give it a proper shake-out before I go; in fact, I don’t have AAA batteries to load in it for a test so plan to pick some up en route.
New radio, new pack, new thrift store audio recorder that’s never been powered up…
Many thanks to Erik (KE8OKM) who kindly shares the following guest post:
Venus SW-3B Review from a newbie SOTA/POTA activator’s viewpoint
by Erik (KE8OKM)
My journey into amateur radio is relatively short (approaching 2 years now) in this short time I have become enamored with “in the field” QRP operating. Particularly SOTA/POTA.
When I started studying for my tech license I kept coming across CW–what the heck is that? After I learned it’s a mode using Morse Code (a highly effective one at that) I thought, “not interested” and “they still do that?”
Much to my chagrin, I find myself loving CW and obsessed with all things Morse! The CW mode is both a skill and an art. I am still drawing with crayons but hope to paint someday…at least like Bob Ross…
The Venus SW-3B is a small 3 band transceiver operating on the highly effective 20/30/40m bands: the SOTA/POTA activator’s bread and butter bands. To date I have logged over 450 QSOs with this little “black box.” I often come across some disparaging remarks since the transceiver is built in China.
For context, I got my ticket in 2020 and got on the air at the end of July 2020. Since that time I have only worked QRP CW using a QCX (the original) on 20 meters and then after September 2021, I got a Venus SW-3B so I have done a bit of work on 40m and 30m now as well.
I really enjoy the challenge of QRP and in a bit over a year, I worked all states, as well as Japan, Canada, several Europe countries, etc, so with good band conditions, QRP really does work and is a lot of fun. My experience working /P stated when I got the SW-3B but I only got out 3 times as the weather up in the hills west of Denver got too chilly very fast; this spring I’ll get back to more /P. Continue reading Dan’s QRP journey and report on the Venus SW-3B→