Monthly Archives: June 2017

First trip with the KX2

We just returned from another fine camping trip, this time with the KX2, its first trip to the great outdoors. First observation, they ought to out put warning labels on these things. They are very nice radios and you will want to operate them very often. Second, they sip power. I brought along my a Bioenno Power BLF 1209A battery (9 Ah), and used it without recharging, operating for a bit each day for the entire four day trip. No more hauling a trolling motor battery with the obligatory follow-on chiropractor trips for me.

KX2 at Camp

Yes, 10 W isn’t 100 W and given the current conditions 10 w SSB won’t always get the job done but many times it does. I made some good contacts over the period of the trip including some time at Rawley Point Lighthouse, with some especially nice QSO’s with WA0HHX and WR2D with good signal reports. I heard plenty of European DX stations, usually late in the afternoon on 20m but wasn’t able to make any contacts. (I take my TS-480SAT along and run it off the camper house battery or my Samlex 1223-BBM when I need 100 W.) At some point conditions will be such that I’ll get some DX from camp with the KX2.

For this trip the only antenna I used was my  LNR EFT-10/20/40 Trail-Friendly end fed. It’s very easy to toss my throw line up into a tree and pull up the antenna. I can be up and running in maybe 5-10 minutes.

My XYL and I saw a lot of White Pelicans on this trip. We’ve seen a few on occasion in years past but on this trip there were quite a large number of them flying about, swimming, and fishing in Lake Michigan. They are fun to watch and were quite entertaining while waiting for responses to my CQ calls at the lighthouse.

White Pelican

Butterfly’s were out in abundance on the beach as well including a bunch of Pearl Crescents and quite a few Red spotted Purples.

Pearl Crescent and Red spotted Purple

Next up for the KX2 portable station is a linked dipole for camp, the internal battery pack, and sorting out portable digital modes. We have several more camping trips scheduled for the year and there will be some other outdoor operation as well. The KX2 packs a lot of features into a small package and is a joy to operate. I’m as happy as a canary with a new beak!

Happy Camper with a KX2

New VFO knob for my KX2

In the runup to the purchase of my KX2 I read a number of comments in various places regarding the differences in the VFO between the KX2 and KX3. Most of the comments were about the difference in the feel between the two radios. There is an actual, physical difference. The main tuning encoder in the KX2 is “Mechanical, sleeve bearing” and that of the KX3 is “Optical, with ball-bearing shaft and weighted knob.” So the VFO feel is not just in your head, or your fingers, it’s actually both and based upon the fact that the mechanisms in the two radios are different.

The VFO knob may well be the primary piece of the man\machine interface of a radio. It is the knob that an Amateur Radio operator spends the most time touching\moving. It’s the one knob on a radio in which the feel is most important. In a way, Amateur Radio operators have been fiddling about with proprioception and haptic perception without likely even knowing it. The feel of this physical object and the mechanical\electrical linkage to the radio has always been very important to a radio operator and over the years manufacturers have used all manner of various mechanisms in an attempt to perform the necessary functions for the radio while providing the the right feel to the operator. In my observation the notion of this feel is often referred to as “weight.” The feel of a good VFO should not be light or loose. It should move with some reasonable effort and maintain its position when movement stops. To me it should have the feel of a weighted object moving through a reasonably viscous fluid with just the slightest amount of resistance to the imparted motion.

The VFO on my Kenwood TS-590SG has a very nice feel and even has a sliding lever beneath and just behind the VFO knob that can be used to increase the tension to suit the operator. I like mine with a little less tension and W9SIZ, who’s been twirling Collins and Hallicrafters VFO knobs all of his life, likes his with more. It actually was the very first thing that he adjusted when he took his new radio out of the box, before he even powered it up for the first time. “Tim, how do I adjust this VFO?” “Right here Uncle Paul.” Over many years his fingers and in turn his mind have developed a sense of what a VFO should feel like and the Kenwood product developers knew that the feel of this one knob is very important so they included the ability to adjust it.

There are countless examples of this on both new and old radios. For instance, I have a pair of Kenwood TS-830S transceivers. They are identical in every way except one has the highly desired Kenwood KB-1, which is solid aluminum, versus the standard plastic knob on the other. Even though the mechanical portions of the VFO are identical, the feel of the one with KB-1 is better than the one without. To this day a KB-1 is a highly sought after accessory for the TS-830S. I’ve seen them fetch upwards of $100 on eBay. All in the pursuit of improved VFO feel.

Kenwood KB-1

Aside from the actual differences in the VFO mechanism between the KX2 and the KX3 and how this affects the feel, the VFO knob on the KX2 lacks a dimple. This seems like an obvious miss on Elecraft’s part. How much more would a dimple have cost? I’m sure that we all would have happily paid the difference. So in pursuit of a dimple and some improved feel I started to search for a third-party solution. As you may be aware there is a fair cottage industry of accessories for Elecraft radios. I found some vendors that make VFO knobs for their other radios but none for the KX2. As a last resort I searched eBay and found this:

KX2 VFO tuning knob

It is solid aluminum, with straight knurling on the circumference, and as you can see, a dimple.

OEM KX2 VFO knob vs replacement

It is slightly larger than the original VFO knob (1.257 inches vs 1.112 inches) and has a reasonable heft to it. Where the original knob is just pressed onto the shaft of the VFO mechanism, the new one has a set screw (Allen wrench provided.) Installation is obviously simple. One thing of note is that since the new knob is slightly larger you may find that it might contact the display cover. Mine did. To resolve this I simply loosened the display cover screws and there was enough play in the cover to move it up slightly to clear the new VFO knob. The seller describes potential clearance issues in the posting for the item.

New VFO tuning knob

The new knob imparts a much nicer feel to the VFO and the dimple is a welcome addition. It was much less expensive than the third-party VFO knobs for other Elecraft radios and it is a very nice upgrade to my new KX2. The eBay seller was very easy to deal with and shipped the item very quickly.

 

KX2: I guess it turned out to be sooner than later…

After reading a lot about the radio, and especially the escapades of people like AE5X, K0JQZ and KC0YQF, M0JCQ, and W2LJ among others with their KX2\KX3’s I figured that one would likely end up in my shack at some point in time…

Well, Brown Santa dropped off a box late yesterday afternoon:

My new favorite shipping box

I ordered the radio on 28 May. When I placed the order the Elecraft site indicated that the KX2 was backordered and that it would ship 10-15 days after the order. I don’t mind waiting a year or two to get a QSL card, but 10-15 days for a radio? OK, I’ll wait. : ) After a year in the market it appears that they still have a queue of people waiting to buy one. This is a great problem to have if your Elecraft.

I figured that worst case it would make it just in time for Field Day. Elecraft shipped it on 2 June. That’s five days after the order with one of those days being a holiday, Memorial Day in the US.  (For some odd reason it took UPS six days to get it to Wisconsin.) Turns out Elecraft not only produces great radios, they can compress time as well. Can your Amateur Radio manufacturer do that?

KX2: What’s in the box

In the box is the radio, the nicely printed, well written and spiral bound (how nice is that?) manual, the KXUSB cable, and the power cable. I also ordered the mic, paddles, and antenna tuner. I didn’t buy the battery pack or charger. More on that later.

After un-boxing I quickly put some Anderson Powerpoles on the power cable and plugged it into a Bioenno Power BLF 1209A battery, plugged in the mic, connected my 4BTV to it and powered it up. I tuned around on 40m for a few minutes and heard KC2DIS, Tony in Norwood, NY calling CQ. I responded to his call. He said that he could hear someone in the noise but couldn’t quite make out the call. I remembered that the KX2 has a speech processor and so I quickly dove into the menu to check its current (default) setting: “0”. I dialed it up to 20, called again and we made the contact. Conditions weren’t great and he said that he had a lot of local noise. He was 59 here and gave me a 44 report. Not bad for 10 w in poor conditions. We had a short QSO and I went QRT to install the antenna tuner and paddles.

When you open up the KX2 you will see an amazing amount of goodness contained within a very small package. The antenna tuner install reminded me that my eyes aren’t 20 years old anymore. Nor 30. Nor 40. This thing is small. Where’d I put my glasses? After a few tries I got the connector between the antenna tuner board and the RF board lined up and in place. The right panel has to be removed for the antenna tuner install and it doubles as the heat sink so the next challenge was to get the two screws back in place through side\heat sink and the power transistors. Did I mention that this thing is tiny? There isn’t a lot of room to work in that space. After a bit of fiddling I was able to get the captive washers and nuts back in place and secured properly.

KX2

With everything buttoned back up I powered the radio back on, enabled the tuner in the menu, cycled the power as instructed in the manual, and called CQ on 40m. After about a minute I got a response from KZ4D, Fred in Lynchburg, VA. He was 59+ here and gave me a 56 report.  He was running an IC-7600 at 75 watts into a vertical and I was using 10 watts into my vertical. We had a nice QSO.

I spent a bit more time tuning about on 40m. With a fair amount of noise on the band it gave me an opportunity to try out the filtering capabilities of the radio. One word: wonderful.

From the speech processor, to the filtering, to the CW\SSB message recording, RX\TX audio equalization, digital decode for RTTY\PSK (and CW), and the list goes on, this is an amazing amount of functionality in a very nice, very small package. This radio will see a lot of use on camping trips and other portable ops including some SOTA activations. I’ve been blessed with the ability to have some pretty nice radios and this one rises up into the top of the pack (pun intended.)

Put a little QRP in your pack

 

W9SIZ’s new radio

After quite a bit of consideration my great uncle Paul, W9SIZ decided he wanted to get a new radio. When he first told me he was thinking about this my response was “Are you sure? You’ve been a Collins man nearly all of my life.” There isn’t a time that I don’t remember Collins equipment sitting on W9SIZ’s radio desk. We talked about it on and off for over a year and he made a final decision to buy a new rig.

With the decision made the next stop was Ham Radio Outlet to pick up his new radio. He wanted to get a Kenwood TS-590SG like the one that I purchased. He’d visited my station a few times and really liked the radio. Now he wanted one for his own. Dave and Paul at HRO Milwaukee completed the sale.

New radio for W9SIZ

New radio for W9SIZ

On the drive down to HRO I asked him when the last time was that he bought a new in the box radio. He told me that his last brand new radio was a Hallicrafters HT-17. He said that he bought it new but that it wasn’t in a box. He bought it from a man named Wendell who ran Central States Radio in Milwaukee. He purchased the radio from Wendell sometime after he returned from Europe after WWII. He also worked for Wendell for a bit after the war selling Hallicrafters, National, Hammarlund, and other brands. So it’s been roughly 70 years since he bought a brand new radio and this may be the first one that was new in a box.

Hallicrafters HT-17

Hallicrafters HT-17

Once we got it home the work of unboxing and setting up his new radio began.

W9SIZ unboxing the new rig

W9SIZ unboxing the new rig

After connecting the rig to his power supply (a vintage 12 VDC power supply from an old aircraft), his vintage National NC-125TS speaker, and his Vibroplex bug for a nice mix of old and new, the new 590SG came alive in the space on his desk previously occupied by his Collins equipment for many years.

W9SIZ and his new TS-590SG

W9SIZ and his new TS-590SG

Thus far he’s very happy with his new radio though change doesn’t come easy at 92. Every once and awhile I’ll get a call from him asking how to undo something that he did. Thankfully the TS-590SG has a lot of knobs and buttons on it so you don’t need to use the menu system much at all, but there are quite a few more knobs and button than on the KWM-2.

And yes he still uses his Hallicrafters SX-100 with the 50’s vintage homebrew CW transmitter below it. Some old habits aren’t worth breaking.

 

Hmm…I wonder what this is for?

Arrived in the mail today:

What is this for?

Gee I wonder what this could possibly be used for? : )

Here’s a hint:

Stay tuned…

 

More WSPR-ing with WSPRlite

A few years ago I began to experiment with WSPR. I had recently purchased a SignaLink USB and WSPR was one of the digital modes that I used it for at that time. The radio that I used it with was my IC-718. I used the WSPR software running in Windows and the setup worked well. It was very interesting to experiment with WSPR and my antennas. I typically ran the 718 at 1 Watt.

Earlier this year I read some posts by Andrew, VK1AD and others about the SOTABEAM WSPRlite device. It’s an intriguing little transmitter that does nothing but WSPR. Configure it, connect a power source and an antenna, and you are WSPR-ing at up to 200 mW on 20m and 30m out of the box, and 40m, 80m, and 160m with an additional lowpass filter kit. I put it on my things to do list and there it sat until a box arrived this week. SOTABEAMS has an arrangement with DX Engineering to sell the WSPRlite and the filters in the US.

My favorite packing tape

Contained within the box were the WSPRlite and the lowpass filter kit:

WSPRLite and filter kit

The device itself is very tiny, about 2 inches square:

WSPRLite

Nothing comes in the package except a thank you note and directions to the DXplorer site to obtain all manner of materials for the WSPRlite including the instructions, the configuration app, drivers, firmware updates, and the revnotes for both. I downloaded the configuration app and drivers and installed them. The WSPRlite device has a very simply interface. There is a micro USB port for comms to the configuration tool and power, an SMA connector for the antenna, a momentary pushbutton to start the device, and a multi-color LED. The LED has a few states\patterns to indicate the status of the radio.  In less than 10 minutes the WSPRlite was up and running.

Since my main wire antenna is currently down due to a recent tree removal project I was only able to use my 4BTV. I let the WSPRlite run for a bit and within a short period of time spots started to appear on the DXplorer site and the main WSPRnet site.

The purchase of a WSPRlite radio includes a license for DXplorer. There is a button in the configuration app that launches a browser with a custom URL for your callsign. The DXplorer site is interesting in that it allows you to view a table and map of your spots like the WSPRnet site but it’s real purpose is to allow comparisons between your WSPR spot data and that of other stations.

DXplorer compare

To make a comparison DXplorer presents a list of stations sorted by distance from your station. For each station you can select a map or graph comparison but perhaps more interesting is a simultaneous spot table\chart comparing S\N and power.

Simultaneous Comparison

Obviously I wouldn’t know what type of antenna was being used for the compared station but one could contact the station and ask. The WSPRlite purchase includes a one year license to DXplorer. After the first year it’s £19.95 annually. It’s interesting to play with for the moment. The DXplorer site contains a good overview in a presentation.

After letting it run for a fair while I accumulated over 1,000 spots. I got some spots in Australia and New Zealand on 20m very early in the morning but 20m to Europe was not working until much later in the afternoon. All of this at 200mW.

20m spots – 200mW

Band conditions were about as they have been as of late.

Example band conditions

Now I need to go to my bench and assemble the lowpass filter kit so that I can try this out on 40m. Once I get my Cobra UltraLite Senior back up I can do some A\B comparisons with the 4BTV.

Overall I am really pleased with the WSPRlite radio and the DXplorer site. It’s a very well done package and is a nice addition to my station. It was very easy to configure and has been reliably WSPR-ing for most of a day now. It will certainly provide some additional insight into my antennas and propagation, and the ability to compare with others is interesting. I’d recommend adding a WSPRlite to your station.

When the LED is red, you’re WSPR-ing