I had a topic on the mind as I made my way back to the trailhead after a SOTA activation recently.
I get a lot of questions from readers and subscribers about resonant vs. non-resonant antennas and whether or not an ATU is a good or bad thing.
If you know me, you’ll know that I tend to lean towards qualitative research; meaning, I like to base my opinions on first-hand observations rather than laboratory or textbook explanations. Part of the reason is I’m not an engineer, so specifications and performance stats don’t influence me–I don’t understand them half the time–rather, I base my opinions on trying or field testing.
The proof is in the pudding, right?
So with the topic of antennas and ATUs on the brain, I decided to turn on the action camera and do an unscripted video on the trail as I hiked back to my car.
This video is essentially stream of consciousness: I won’t blame you if you skip it.
With that said, if you manage to stay awake for the whole video (congratulations in advance) I’m curious what your thoughts are so please consider leaving a kind comment!
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.
A few weeks ago, I posted a report about doing my first park activation with the Elecraft AX1 super compact antenna. If anything, I felt the activation almost went *too* well using such a small antenna. I didn’t want to give others the impression this is all the antenna you’ll ever need–it’s just a brilliant compact antenna designed for convenience and accessibility. It’s a fun field companion and can be used pretty much anywhere.
Yesterday morning, I had a number of errands to run on the south side of Asheville and had not planned to do a POTA activation. While I was waiting on a curbside delivery, however, I was admiring the nice weather and thinking that I might venture out later in the day to do a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation. Part of me knew, though, that if I returned home, I’d get involved with projects and never make it back out to the field.
I always carry a transceiver and antenna in my car, so I opened the trunk and found my Elecraft KX2 transceiver field kit which included the Elecraft AX1 antenna. Technically, that’s a whole station! Why not give it a go–? I’m always up for a challenge.
Since I would be passing by the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way home, I quickly scheduled an activation on the POTA website via my phone so that the spotting system would know to grab my information from the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) when I started calling CQ.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
I knew this might not be an “easy” activation: I would be using a super compact field antenna that’s quite a compromise in terms of performance, propagation wasn’t exactly stellar, and I was activating a popular (hence somewhat stagnant) park on a Monday morning. Not necessarily ideal ingredients for a successful activation.
I also discovered my phone tripod in the trunk of the car, so decided to make one of my real-time, real-life, no edit videos of the entire successful or failed activation. (Hint: It turned out to be a success.)
At the end of the day, the AX1 continues to impress me. It is a compromise? Yes. Does it perform as well as a resonant wire antenna? No. Can it activate a park as well as my other antennas? Yes.
AX1 QSO Map
No doubt, part of my success with the AX1 is because I’m primarily using CW instead of SSB to complete activations. I’ve made SSB contacts with the AX1, but I’ve never completed full park activations with it yet–in truth, though, I’ve never tried.
In fact, perhaps it’s just a lucky streak, but so far the AX1 has been as effective as many of my wire antennas in terms of simply completing valid park activations in less than an hour. My signal reports aren’t as strong as they would be with, say, my EFT-MTR resonant antenna or Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna, but it’s enough to get the job done.
If nothing else, I’ll admit that the AX1 reminds me of the magic of low-power radio each time I use it. When I log stations hundreds of miles away, with such a modest station, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.
In short? It’s fun to use.
Black Friday Sale
FYI: I just received Elecraft’s latest Black Friday 2020 ad and noticed that the AX1 antenna package (which doesn’t include the 40M extension) is on sale. Click here to check it out.
Since I had already set up my phone to record the video above, I decided to make a couple more.
I thought there might be some value in making real-time videos showing what it’s like operating CW and SSB during a POTA activation. The videos have no edits and haven’t been trimmed. It’s as if the viewer were there at the activation sitting next to me at the picnic table.
Operating CW with the IC-705
After setting up my station, I first started on the 40M band in CW. I meant to start the camera rolling during tune-up, but forgot to hit record. The video begins after I’d made a few CW contacts, but shows what it’s like changing bands and relying on the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) to pick me up then the POTA website to auto spot me.
My video cut off abruptly due to a low battery message. I had to give my iPhone a quick power charge to make the next video.
Operating SSB with the IC-705
After operating CW for a while, I plugged in the hand mic that ships with the IC-705 for a little SSB action. My main goal with this video was to show how I call CQ and use the voice keyer memories in order to manage the field “work flow” process. I also speak to how important it is to either self-spot or have a friend spot you to the POTA network while operating phone.
I spent so much time setting up and running the camera, I wasn’t actually on the air for very long, but I easily managed to achieve a valid activation and had a lot of fun in the process.
I’m not a pro “YouTuber” as I say in one of my videos. I much prefer blogging my experiences rather than “vlogging,” I suppose.
Still, I think I’ll do a few more “real-time” videos of POTA activations and speak to the various techniques I use to activate parks. Since these videos aren’t edited for time, they may not appeal to the seasoned POTA activator or QRPer–that’s okay, though. My goal is primarily to assist first-time POTA activators.
Have you been activating Parks or Summits lately? Do you have any advice or suggestions I failed to mention? Or do you have suggestions for future topics? Please comment!
And I thought my buddy, Mike (K8RAT), was being gastronomically adventurous when he made a homemade single-lever “sideswiper” with a steak knife! Imagine what might happen if the steak knife meets up with this:
As Ten-Tec was setting up at the Dayton Hamvention last Thursday, I was able to meet with their engineer (John Henry) briefly and had a little time to play with the new Model 539 Argonaut VI. As I tuned around the CW side of the 20 meter band, I recorded a short video. I’m sharing this with you here, but must ask your forgiveness for its quality and glitches; I want to make it clear that this material was recorded on my Android phone in some haste.
Moreover, this video does not do justice to the Argo VI’s audio, which is exceptional. In fact, I can’t tell a difference between its audio and that of the Ten-Tec Eagle, both of which have very low noise floors and simply gorgeous audio fidelity.
Now, just a small taste of what this receiver can do…