31 December 2021

Things I Finally Figured Out In 2021

Life is a strange journey, and 2021 was stranger than most. It was a rough ride for many people. While my family and I had a relatively smooth trip around the sun, the rest of the world's problems got me thinking more deeply than I have in past years. I could dive into deep discussions about the philosophy of life, the impact of COVID, the paradox of the expanding universe. 

But naaah, I'll just talk about some of the ham radio things I've finally figured out. 

  • There are no new ideas in Amateur Radio. Lots of good old ideas, even great old ideas, but no new ones. The theoretical and practical tools and methods for communicating over the airwaves have all been figured out. So stop looking for the next 'new thing' and instead just get on the air with what you have, and have fun
  • The radio industry will never make exactly what I want. That's not a complaint, just a statement of fact. I'm doomed to pass from this life without the perfect radio. But that's OK, because I'll shuffle off this mortal coil without the perfect pickup truck, the perfect computer, the perfect hamburger, the perfect waistline. That's life
  • Bigger is better. Bigger antenna. Bigger power supply. Bigger transmit finals. Bigger DSP. Bigger touch screen. If you are just getting into ham radio, don't start small, start big and save yourself the frustration of low power, low sunspot counts, low antennas. Go Big. That said, however...
  • Nothing hones your practical skills like QRP  
  • Don't fear the tuner. The internet is full of ham radio 'experts' pointing their fingers and laughing at others who are seeking advice about tuners. In their minds, real hams use resonant antennas, all others are weak sisters. That's bullshit. If you need a tuner, use a tuner, and don't be ashamed about it
  • The era of the sub-$1,000 basic 100 watt HF rig is over. Icom learned a huge lesson with the introduction of the IC-705. The ham radio community griped endlessly about the radio's $1,300 street price, then they lined up in droves to fork over the cash. The same happened with the IC-7300. Five years ago the 7300 re-defined the concept of the basic rig, and Icom still sells them by the truckload at a $1,000 price point. Icom has already announced price hikes in the new year. Yaesu will follow. Chip shortages, supply chain issues, COVID, and escalating design and production costs means we'll soon be paying a kilo-buck or more for our basic rigs. It's the new norm
  • I'm too damned old to keep tying to deal with Yaesu's endlessly (and unnecessarily) complex menu structures on their HF rigs
  • Life is much better if you know how to solder
  • Cheap Chinese radios are worth exactly what you pay for them, and not a penny more
  • Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePo) battery chemistry is the future. All else pales in comparison
  • You can never have too many antennas. Plus, they are easier than radios to hide from your significant other 😄
  • You can fit ham radio into just about any activity. Birthday parties, camping trips, fishing trips, babysitting the grandkids, dog sitting, visiting long lost relatives, memorial services (don't ask me how I know). All you need is a radio and a wire
  • And last, the idea of retirement isn't so frightening. I can see it just over the horizon, in a year or two. 2021 was a huge perspective shift for me. After a half century of running on the hamster wheel I'm looking forward to extended navel gazing sessions, hanging out with the grandkids, walking the dogs, chasing the XYL around the camper, fishing, and playing with radios

So, boldly forward into 2022!

W8BYH out

27 December 2021

Pure Fleet

In the Army we had a concept known as 'pure fleet'. Pure fleet means that an Army unit, like a division, has only one type of vehicle for each mission. For example, back in the 90's, it was common for a division to have a mix of light utility vehicles - HMMWVs, militarized pickup trucks and SUVs (we called them Commercial Utility Cargo Vehicles, or CUCVs), mission specific vehicles like maintenance trucks based on the old Dodge Ram pickup series (M880 'contact trucks'), and more. One day some smart logistics guy took a look across all the motor pools stuffed full of this odd mix of rolling stock and said, "we need to standardize on just one type of vehicle, and it needs to be the HMMWV". The division commander agreed and the concept of the pure fleet was born. 

The benefits of a pure fleet are pretty obvious. You only have to train Soldiers to drive one type of vehicle, not three or four. Your mechanics only have to worry about maintaining one type of vehicle, not three or four. Your logistics guys only need to worry about supplying parts for one type of vehicle, not three or four. Assuming you make a good choice on the type of vehicle you standardize on - and the HMMWV was a great choice at the time - the pure fleet concept reduces a lot of headaches.

They all drive the same, function the same, use the same spare parts...

I've decided to adopt the pure fleet concept with HF radio and will likely extend it to VHF/UHF handhelds. I came to this decision after almost a year of struggling to get radios from different manufacturers working with a variety of digital mode software. I've worked with a number of Icom and Yaesu HF radios and a smattering of one-off rigs like the Elecraft KX2 and the Xiegu G90 (sorry, I'm just not a Kenwood guy). The only line of radios that was even remotely easy to configure across a wide variety of software packages - Winlink, JS8Call, FLDigi, Ion2G (ALE) and MS-DMT (MARS) - has been the Icom line. 

Yaesu's radio control settings are maddeningly complex, and it seems if you change one variable for one software package, you end up impacting settings for others. I can't tell you how frustrated I've become with Yaesu radios. Yaesu makes good, solid radios, and I think they are better sounding on SSB than Icom rigs, but configuring the radios for digital operations is maddeningly complex and confusing. The smattering of boutique rigs I've tested - the KX2, the G90, the CTX-10 - can be made to work on digital modes in some form or fashion, but they are QRP rigs, and not well suited to high duty cycle digital mode operations.

So I've decided to standardize on Icom and start shedding much of my Yaesu gear. My pure fleet will be Icom based.

Standardizing on Icom offers a number of significant advantages. 

  • My IC-7300, IC-7100 and IC-705 all share the same basic command set. For example, adjusting RX bandwidth (an important step for digital mode configuration) is the same process across all three radios. The button presses to get the the baud rate settings are the same across all three radios. The ALC level adjustments are the same across all three radios. Get the hint? Learn one, and the learning curve is flattened for the other two
  • Icom's current generation of radios are very well supported by digital mode software developers. In fact, the IC-7300 has become a benchmark radio for software development; developers today will code for the 7300 first, then branch out to other radios
  • With the exception of the IC-7200, every HF radio Icom has released since the introduction of the IC-7100 back in 2015 incorporates an SD card slot. This means the user can store different operating profiles on the card and recall them as needed. For example, on my IC-7300 SD card I have a rig profile for MARS MS-DMT, MARS ALE, Winlink, JS8CALL, and SSB voice. If I'm operating voice and want to reconfigure the radio to operate on MS-DMT it's a few taps on the rig screen, the profile is loaded from the SD card, and off I go
I'll still play around with other brands of radios. I'm particularly captivated by the dainty little Elecraft KX2 - it beats larger rigs so bad on both RX and TX that it's almost funny. But for primary voice and digital communications, particularly for EMCOMM work, it's all Icom.

W8BYH out

19 December 2021

The View From The Bench - 19 December 2021

First, Merry Christmas! 

What's been going on this week?

Well, a random thought rattling around in my head. I find it interesting that hams who buy QRP rigs often think that the absolute best antenna to use with them is some sort of a reduced length vertical, as though that will magically overcome every QRP rig's greatest shortcoming - low output power.

I admit, I'm guilty of the same. The KX2 looks sooooo cute sitting next to that neat little AX1 vertical.

Truth is, any shortened antenna is a compromised antenna, and it's the worst thing you can use with a QRP rig. When operating at low transmit levels, the efficiency is all in the antenna. You need something that is both resonant and BIG! The bigger, the better. Think this:

Not this:

Short verticals have their place, and they can be a lot of fun to play with. I always have one with me as a 'quick setup' option, but for serious QRP work a long wire antenna simply can't be beat. My go-to design is the end fed half wave. It is fast and easy to get set up, as long as there's a tree or two available (and in Georgia there's always a tree or two available). I've got examples from several different manufacturers. All of them are good. For portable QRP work I highly recommend the Par EndFedz Trail-Friendly EFHW, sold by Vibroplex. It was recommended to me by my buddy Joe, KI4ASK, who's a dedicated SOTA/POTA guy. I've used mine fairly regularly for about a year, and I've got it adjusted so it's resonant on 10, 20 & 40 meters, so no tuner is needed. And it's small, really small. When wound up on its carrier it is about the size of an HT. 

If I'm doing longer term or more serious communication duties, or bad weather is expected, I'll hang one of my EFLW antennas that can handle 100 watts or more and is weatherproof. I have examples from Chameleon, MyAntennas and perhaps one or two more manufacturers. All of them are good, and all of them are certainly better than any vertical antenna combo I've got.


I run a couple of LDG tuners with my Icom radios. The work great together, but there is one weak point - the LDG manufactured cables that connect the tuner to the radio. I've had several go bad on me - whoever makes them for LDG does a lousy job of crimping and soldering the Molex pin connections. I've had to repair two of them so far, and just yesterday one I had repaired in the past broke again. Grrrr... In the good old days I could just swing by the local Radio Shack and pick up an extra Molex connector or two. But these days everything is on-line. So I've got a pack of them on order from Amazon, but they won't be here until Tuesday. I guess no playing around on ALE until then.


Speaking of ALE, someone finally published a good user guide for the Ion2G ALE software package. It wasn't written by the program's author, Devin Butterfield. This was written by one of the alpha and beta testers for Ion2G. It always befuddles me why so many software developers don't think putting together documentation for their applications is important.

Cobbling Together

I continue to play around with physical configurations for my IC-705. In case you hadn't heard... there's no tuner built into the IC-705. There are some good external tuner options - the Icom AH-705, the Vibroplex mAT 705 and the LDG Z100. All of them will interface directly with the 705 so that they will do 'sensed tuning'; if the tuner senses high SWR on a frequency when transmit starts it'll trigger a tuning cycle. All three are very good tuners. but the smallest by a wide margin is the mAT 705. I was looking at it last night and thought to myself, "Self, why can't we figure out a way to mount this thing to the IC-705's Windcamp ARK 705 cage for easy setup and a smaller footprint?" Self says, "Why not, let's give it a try!" After an hour or so of trying different mounting locations, I settled on what you see here. Through the modern miracle of Velcro, I give you the cobbled together IC-705/ARK 705/mAT 705 mash-up.

I think I'll do a dedicated post on this at a later date, once I've matured out the concept.

That's it for now. Once again, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

W8BYH out  

17 December 2021


I've mentioned in a recent post that I've been around the world and back again with computing devices for Amateur Radio. I've bought, borrowed or re-purposed over a dozen different computers over the past few years in search of that 'perfect' computing device for use as both a general purpose shack computer and as a deployable, rugged, EMCOMM computer. 

I have to say that, with two exceptions, every computer I tested worked just fine as a device for running ham radio related software - Winlink, JS8CALL, Fldigi, Ham Radio Deluxe, Icom's RS-BA1 package, Ion2G ALE, RT Systems rig programming software, and more. This is what I call the 'ham radio software stack'. The computers I tested included:

  • Two Acer Aspire models (14" & 15")
  • At least two Dell laptops - a plain-jane Inspiron and a ruggedized Latitude 5420
  • Three Panasonic Toughbooks - two CF19s (early and late models), and a CF31
  • Four Microsoft Surface tablets - a Surface Pro 5 & 7, a Surface Go (original) and a Surface Go 2
  • A Raspberry Pi 3
  • A Trimble T10 ruggedized tablet
With a few exceptions, all of these computers did just fine running the ham radio software stack; they had enough computing power to get the job done with no sweat. The exceptions are an early Panasonic CF-19 running a single core Celeron processor, the two Surface Go's (nice form factor, but painfully anemic low-end CPUs) and the Raspberry Pi 3, which can't run Winlink. For me, the inability to run Winlink is a deal-killer. Forget Wine, or PAT or any other Windows emulator for Linux. If the OS can't run Winlink natively then I don't want to mess with it, especially for EMCOMM work.

Some of this computing hardware got left behind for what I'll call personal issues. I didn't like the keyboards, or the screens, or they weren't rugged enough, or didn't have enough USB ports, or an HDMI port or... OK, it's all subjective. Some computers clicked, some didn't. For example, the Panasonic CF-19 and 31 Toughbooks are great rugged computers, and good used examples are available from dozens of resellers at very reasonable prices. But the 'square' screen aspect ratio drives me nuts - things just don't look right.

The winners on this list include the Acer Aspires, the Dell Latitude 5420, and the Trimble T10. The Acer Aspire line is a good blend of performance and price. You get a lot of computing 'oomph' for less money than similar offerings from Dell, HP, etc. However, Acer achieves that low price by going light on the physical build. That's my way of saying they are flimsy. I wouldn't take an Aspire to the field too often, but if you are in the market for a good performing laptop for shack use, the Aspire line is well worth a look.

The Dell Latitude is a beast. It's part of Dell's rugged computer line - not quite as tough as a Panasonic Toughbook, but plenty tough enough, and it comes with some very good computing specs: a great backlit keyboard, a very good touchscreen, an i5 quad core processor, plenty of RAM and SSD storage, more ports than I can count. It's my go-to field laptop.

But the device I really want to talk about in this post is the Trimble T10. If you follow this blog you've seen this tablet show up in a number of photos, most recently here:

It's an odd piece of computing hardware because it's not marketed as a tablet. If you know anything about Trimble, you know they make high end surveying and GPS equipment. That's how I got to know about the T10 and get my hands on one. Trimble sells the T10 as a survey data collector - something you sync up with a high precision GPS receiver and go out and collect data with. But the T10 is really just a modified fully rugged (and MILSPEC) Windows 10 tablet running an Intel i7 processor. From that perspective it's like any of the half-dozen other ruggedized tablet brands out there on the market from Dell, Panasonic, Getac, and others. In fact, based on the form factor I suspect the T10 line may be manufactured in the same factory that makes Panasonic's Toughpads. 

Here's what puts this device head and shoulders above anything I've tested so far:
  • IP65 rated for water and dust protection
  • MILSTD 810G rated for vibration and shock resistance
  • Hot-swappable high capacity battery packs
  • 72 channel internal GNSS (GPS/GLONASS/Beidou/SBAS)
  • i7 core processor
  • 8 gb RAM
  • 512 gb of storage
  • 4G internal cell capable (yes, I've installed a SIM card, so no external wi-fi needed)
  • Excellent daylight readable touchscreen
In short, the thing is a beast. I could hammer tent stakes with it and it would still work. But therein lies one of its drawbacks; it's heavy and just a bit unwieldy. Plus the factory suppled 'docking' keyboard isn't the best, which is why I'm trying out Bluetooth keyboards.

The T10 is such a good computing device that it's actually one of my main shack computers. In fact, for digital operations for everything except MARS work, this is the computer I use. It sits in a multi-port docking station (that provides extra Bluetooth and an HDMI port) and runs my entire suite of ham radio software:
  • Winlink
  • HRD
  • Fldigi
  • RT Systems programming software for a variety of radios
  • Icom's RS-BA1 software for controlling the IC-705
  • Elecraft KX rig control and programming software
  • LibreOffice (an open source replacement for Microsoft Office)

If I need to take a radio to the field for digital operations, I simply grab the T10 off of its docking cradle, toss it into a bag with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and head out. Rain or shine, it doesn't matter; the T10 simply doesn't care.

Like everything else Trimble sells, the T10 is (very) badly over-priced. That's why I don't own this particular tablet. It's on long-term loan from a company interested in evaluations of 'hardened' tablets. But when I do have to return it I'll go looking for a replacement. The T10 has proven to me the feasibility of the Windows tablet as a general purpose field computing device, and I'll likely go looking for a used Panasonic Toughpad with similar specifications. The good thing about the Panasonic line is that they absolutely dominate the rugged computing market, so there are always hundreds of used devices available on eBay or from resellers like Bob Johnson's Computer Stuff out of Delaware (I've bought a few Toughbooks from Bob Johnson's, and it's a good company)

But why a tablet instead of a laptop? For field operations I think a ruggedized tablet has some significant advantages over a laptop. First, it's easier to seal up a tablet than it is a laptop, so they tend to be slightly cheaper. Next, a tablet is more likely to have a built-in GPS, particularly if it's cell service (or 'data plan') ready. Many ruggedized tablets have external hot swappable batteries. You can run them effectively without a keyboard or mouse, using finger pokes, or a stylus. Because they are specifically designed to be used outdoors many come with brighter screens for daylight readability. They also tend to be physically smaller and lighter than a ruggedized laptop with a similar screen size.

Of course there's drawbacks. The biggest limitation is ports. Most rugged laptops come with only one or two USB ports, and no HDMI port. You'll need a port expansion dongle or a docking station. They also don't stand up by themselves very well - you end up having to prop it up against something, or get an add-on stand like a RAM Universal Stand. And because most manufacturers don't see tablets as general purpose computing devices, you normally get a lower system capability set - slower, mobile CPUs, less RAM and less storage than you'd get with a laptop of the same screen size. Remember, there's no cooling fans on tablets, and more processing power = more heat. These devices necessarily run at lower speeds and with lighter weight processors just to keep from melting down. Suffice to say, you won't be playing Call of Duty on a tablet, at least not for very long. But that's OK. Most ham radio programs are what I'll call 'low intensity' applications - they don't tax the system capabilities like gaming software does. Applications like Winlink and Fldigi run perfectly fine on tablet-class hardware specs. If you buy a tablet with at least an i5 mobile processor you should be fine.

So there you have it. If you're looking for a rugged, weatherproof computer to use for EMCOMM, don't just look at laptops. Take a look at some of the rugged tablets that are out there, particularly the used Panasonics or Dells. There's lots of good deals on eBay and from third party re-sellers. A tablet may just be a better fit for your needs than a laptop.

W8BYH out.

13 December 2021

Holy Grail

Note: I started this post back in early October, and got pulled away from completing it by other interests. It sat unpublished in my Blogger stack and I lost track of it until a few days ago. Although I've published posts about the KX2 since then, what I have not yet done is compare it in depth to the Icom IC-705. So I decided to polish up the post and put it out there for those with an interest in both radios.

A few weeks ago I stumbled on one of the Holy Grails of modern COVID-induced shortage radios - a reasonably priced, good condition Elecraft KX2 kit. The seller was asking a cracking good price for a very complete kit - radio with internal tuner and clock, the after market SideKX end panels, heat sink and snap-on cover, Elecraft paddles, the AX-1 antenna with the 40 meter coil and tripod mount, assorted Elecraft connector cables, and a LowePro carry pouch. The only thing missing was the owners manual. For once I didn't hesitate or ruminate - I shot the seller an email and told him I'd take it if it was still available. I really didn't think I had a chance at the radio - surely someone else had already beat me to the punch. But to my surprise he wrote right back and told me I was first in what was quickly becoming a very long line of interested buyers. The radio was mine. 

If you have spent any time reading this blog you are probably asking, "But don't you already have multiple QRP rigs?" Umm, yeah. So what's your point? I've had an interest in the Elecraft KX line for some time. My interest was actually heightened by my purchase of the Icom IC-705. Last year I thought surely - surely - the IC-705 would punch a deep hole in the KX line's sales. The KX3 and KX2 are 'old' technology (as ancient at 2016 - when the KX2 was released). The IC-705 is new, modern, stuffed full of bleeding edge QRP rig technology. Who wouldn't pick the 705 over the KX2 for portable operations?

Well, it turns out lots of people are picking the KX2 over the IC-705. The demand for the KX2 is so strong that Elecraft reports delays of over 5 weeks on shipping. Just what is it about the KX2 that keeps demand high? I know the IC-705 pretty well, and I understand its strengths and weaknesses. It is a very, very good rig (with some annoying shortcomings), and it points the way to the future of feature-laden SDR QRP radios. But the heavy demand and overwhelmingly positive reviews of the KX2 had my interest piqued. Why were hams choosing the KX2 over the 705? What was it about the KX2 that made it a compelling radio? Inquiring minds wanted to know.

After playing with the KX2 for a few weeks I'm beginning to understand why the KX2 has such a strong following. It's not just about the radio, it's also about Elecraft, the company's philosophy, and their approach to service.

First, the radio. I'm comparing the KX2 to a number of other QRP radios I've worked with over the past few years: the Yaesu FT-818, the Icom IC-705, the CommRadio CTX-10. 

Let's start with the CTX-10. Feature-for-feature, the KX2's closest competition is this all-mode 80 - 6 meter QRP rig with built-in batteries and an antenna tuner. But the KX2 is smaller, has a much better user interface, has real, responsive, customer support, and comes without the embarrassing microphone drama that damned near killed the CTX-10 in the market. I fear that the CTX-10 will quickly fade into obscurity in the ham radio world, always the radio that could have been a serious QRP contender if the manufacturer had just paid more attention to customer requests, and addressed some of its very evident shortcomings. Owning a CTX-10 is like buying a new Ferrari that came off the factory floor with a faulty gearbox and no driver seat, and being told by Enzo himself that there's nothing wrong with the car.

Now the IC-705. In a feature-by-feature comparison, the KX2 loses out to the IC-705. It's really no contest. The 705 is a mash-up of all the functionality of the IC-7300, most of the IC-9700, with a dash of new features like Bluetooth, wi-fi, and GPS. The radio is a technological tour-de-force, and in typical Icom fashion, everything works. With the exception of a serious RFI over USB issue, all the functions and features are well implemented. But all of that wizardry comes with a penalty when considering QRP rigs - the 705 is chunky and awkward; it doesn't sit well in use. Icom flubbed the case design and should have built it with a better viewing angle. But Icom did get one thing right in this area - they incorporated a standard 1/4 x 20 threaded socked in the radio's case, making it easy to mount it on things like camera tripods. I suspect that the release of the IC-705 triggered a minor run on table-top tripods at Amazon. The 705 provides an unparalleled operating experience. It does everything very, very well and many things excellently. I particularly like the radio because it's a digital mode beast - it will operate on full duty cycle digital modes like JS8CALL for hours without breaking a sweat. The 705 is, in my mind, the reigning general purpose QRP field ops champ. But it's a big field ops champ in terms of picnic bench footprint, mainly because the radio lacks a built-in tuner and the Icom AH-705 tuner is almost as big as the radio itself. The AH-705 is a very capable tuner, but the overall footprint for a complete IC-705 station can be quite large for a QRP rig.   

Next up, the Yaesu FT-818. The 818 is the (effectively unchanged) descendant of the Yaesu FT-817. The 817 was designed in the late 1990s and released in 2001, is still in production, and is still a strong seller. Why? Well, a feature-for-feature count of the 818 as compared to the KX2 tells the story. While the 818 lacks any real filtering, has a weak battery and power management system, only puts out 6 watts max, lacks an internal tuner, it is more of a 'shack-in-a-box' than the KX2 will ever be. It offers 160 - 6 meter HF coverage, plus 2 meter and 70 cm band coverage on all modes. Also, having been in the market for so long it enjoys excellent after-market support. Perhaps most important, a brand new FT-818 sells for $650, while a stripped (no tuner, no internal clock) KX2 sells for $900. That $250 price difference alone is the reason the FT-818 continues to sell well. Plus, the 817 and the 818 are proven performers in the field. For over a decade before the KX2 hit the market, hikers and SOTA operators were carrying their FT-817s to peaks all around the world and logging thousands of contacts with this capable little rig.

Now, the KX2. The first thing that struck me, and this is something many have commented on, is that it's small. I mean, real small. You pick it up and say, "Really? There's a transceiver, an antenna tuner and a battery in here?" How small is it, really? Well, this picture says it all:

Elecraft KX2 perched atop an IC-705

Here's another perspective on size that will help you visualize just how small the KX2 is. If I removed the after-market side panels and re-installed the factory originals on this radio, it is small enough to comfortably slip into the cargo pocket of a set of Army BDU or ACU trousers, with space left over for a microphone and a Par EndFedz Trail Friendly long wire antenna. Think of that - a fully capable HF rig, microphone and long wire antenna in just one cargo pocket. 

Some would argue that the 705 looks bigger because of the front facing speaker. Yeah, OK, but you still have to make space for the VFO knob. And remember, there's an extremely capable antenna tuner and a battery inside the KX2 case, and the battery will power the rig at a full 10 watts longer than the 705's external snap-on battery pack will power it at the 5 watt level.

Another intangible that comes with the KX2 is support. I purchased a very early first year production rig, and Elecraft treats me like I bought a factory new radio just last week. I contacted Elecraft a few times with questions about programming software, ordering components and doing a MARS mod on the rig. Every question was swiftly and completely answered by their customer support staff. And speaking of components, you can buy almost an entire KX2, piece-by-piece, from the Elecraft website. Scratch  up the clear faceplate that covers the LCD display? Lose one of the screws that holds the battery cover in place? Need a replacement VFO knob? No problem. These components and lots more can be ordered off of the Elecraft website. I think the only KX2 components you can't order are the main board and the LCD display.

Elecraft's corporate culture encourages direct contact with its customer base. In fact, Wayne Burdick, N6KR, one of the founders of Elecraft and the principal designer of the KX series of rigs, regularly gives interactive talks on YouTube and actively participates in discussions on the Elecraft KX Groups.io reflector. Elecraft management is not shy about reaching out directly to their customer base and interacting with them. When was the last time you saw an Icom, Yaesu or Kenwood VP or product designer participate one-on-one with an end user? 

Drawbacks of the KX2? Sure, there's a few. 
  • The KX2 is nowhere near as good on digital modes as the 705 is. Not even close. Digital mode operations seem to be something of an afterthought in the KX2's design. You'll need an external sound card device (I use a Sbarent sound card dongle), and configuring the little rig for digital operations can be somewhat fiddly. Plus the KX2 can get hot - really hot - when running full duty cycle digital modes. By comparison, the 705 just loafs when running full duty cycle ops.
  • You have to physically open the back of the radio to remove the battery for charging. This was an intentional design choice by Elecraft - when the little radio was designed back in 2015 - 2016, lithium ion battery charging technology wasn't as advanced as it is today. Elecraft knew they needed lithium ion batteries to provide the needed power density in a package small enough to fit inside the case, but they were concerned about battery explosion and fire due to poorly implemented board-level charging circuits. So Elecraft wisely chose to have the battery charging take place outside of the radio. You open the radio up, remove the battery, hook it up to the external charger, reinstall and keep operating. Interestingly, word from Elecraft as of November of this year is that they are about to release an upgrade to the KX2 that allows for internally charging a battery. 
  • The KX2 (and the KX3) is about as moisture proof as a submarine with screen doors. True. The KX series case design is what you could generously call 'open', as in, there's lots of openings for moisture and dirt to get in. This is NOT a rig  you'd want to operate in the open during heavy weather events. There's lots of discussion on the KX forum on Groups.io about carrying the little rig around in a zip lock bag, or covering it with a clear shower cap, or putting it into a Tupperware box with holes cut in the side, or... OK, you get the idea - this is not a foul weather radio. But to be fair, neither is the 705. Icom makes no claim that the 705 is even remotely moisture resistant. Run it in the rain at  your own peril. But I tend to think that the 705 would survive a light shower better than the KX2.  
The last topic to address is the idea that the KX2 and the 705 compete with each other in the same market space. I honestly don't think so. There's enough elbow room between the feature sets of both radios that I could justify hanging on to both. The IC-705 is an outstanding portable rig that is a digital mode beast, but requires a few added bits & pieces (tuner, external battery) to reach its full potential, while the KX2 is an outstanding uber-small full featured rig that shines in the SSB and CW roles. If I'm going to hike the Appalachian Trail I'll take the KX2. If I'm going to the local park for a day of fun, I'll take the IC-705.

W8BYH out

12 December 2021

The View From The Bench - 12 December 2021

Christmas is coming and the view is... Christmas-y. Roberta and I put the final touches on the inside decorating, but I've still got to hang something - anything - outside that indicates we celebrate Christ's birth. We took a pause on the decorating scene to go camping last weekend, and now we're in a bit of a scramble to catch up.

So there's not a whole lot going on, ham radio wise. My shack is being used as a temporary gift storage area, so its hard to maneuver around. I literally have to step over boxes to get to my radios and workbench. That makes getting in there to work on projects a pain. But there are a few things to report:

Xiegu G90

I got my Xiegu G90 a few days back. I am still learning the radio's features and foibles, and so far there are plenty of each. I bought it mainly because it provides 20 watt output in a very small form factor (not Elecraft KX-2 small, but still small) and incorporates a really good antenna tuner. Plus I caught a very good Black Friday sale with Radioddity. I'll have more to report in a later post.


Speaking of the Elecraft KX-2, there's chatter on the Elecraft KX Groups.io site of a soon-to-be-released update to the KX-2 that allows charging of the battery while it's still inside the radio. If you know anything about the KX-2, you know that the internal battery must be physically removed from the radio for charging. This was an intentional design choice made by Elecraft back in 2016 when the radio was first released. Elecraft wanted to use lithium-ion batteries to power the little rig, but charging technology at the time wasn't good enough to ensure the batteries wouldn't over-charge, over-heat, explode, catch fire, etc. Yes, exploding lithium-ion batteries are a real thing, and a serious thing. Just Google 'hoverboard battery fires'. I'm not sure if Elecraft is planning on using a different battery chemistry, or has just settled on a safer charging technology to use with the existing batteries (which are very good, and made by Tenergy). The reason I'm confident that this is going to happen is because Wayne Burdick, N6KR, one of the founders of Elecraft and its principal designer, is leading the discussions. That's one of the things I really like about Elecraft - the guys who run the company and design the gear will get directly involved with their customer base. 


Prices, they are a-changing. Or soon will be. Soon. On 9 December, DX Engineering conducted a Manufacturers Showcase session with Ray Novak, Icom America's Amateur Radio product line manager. I like Ray - he's honest and will tell you straight up what's happening - and the word from Ray can be summed up as follows:

  • the chip shortage is still crippling a lot of manufacturers, including Icom, and there's a second wave of chip shortages just hitting the industry
  • shipping delays are still having a severe impact on getting product moved from the point of manufacture to the customer
  • any bright ideas Icom engineers may be working on have been put on hold until the chip shortage and shipping issues are behind us
  • prices for all Icom products are going up effective 1 January 2022

I got the impression from the way Ray was talking that the ID-52 DSTAR handheld will be the only new radio product that Icom will be shipping in 2022

Wrapping It Up - The Mooreland Mule

When I do these weekly-ish updates, I'll review my YouTube viewing history for the past week to see what things caught my attention that might be worth mentioning. This week there was a lot of ham radio drivel from the usual suspects, but nothing worth talking about. However, I did stumble on a YouTube channel titled Mooreland Mule by some guy in England. I don't know who he is, but he's fairly new to YouTube (at least the channel is). His claim to fame is that he's running all over England with a Codan 2110 backpack HF rig and making contacts into central and eastern Europe, and all the way into Australia. Thirty watts, backpack rig, battery power, simple longwire or whip antenna, cool tactical Bergan (backpack). Where the hell do these guys find this stuff? Daddy wants!

That's it for this week. W8BYH out.

11 December 2021


Earlier in the week the Mrs. and I took off with the camper and headed to Red Top Mountain State Park on Lake Allatoona. This was the first time in almost six months we were able to get away and do some camping. In retrospect we should have picked a different park, or at least a different site. Our site was simply too small for our camper (which is only 22' long, from bumper to hitch) and was so difficult to get in to that it was dangerous. Red Top Mountain is undergoing a major renovation, and the state is re-habbing most of the campsites, so maybe we'll try it again in a few years. But what the state can't fix is the traffic noise from I-75 which runs close to the park. There was a constant low roar coming from this heavily used interstate that ruins the camping vibe. But we enjoyed ourselves regardless.

As usual, while preparing for the trip I flipped and flopped around trying to decide what radios to bring. I followed my own advice and brought my MARS-modded Yaesu FT-891 as a 100 watt 'last ditch' radio, but what else to bring? What would be this trip's QRP 'toy'? My KX-2? My IC-705? My FT-818? My CTX-10? Decisions decisions decisions.

The nod went to the IC-705 and the backpack setup. 

And it was a good choice. I strung the ParEndFedz Trail Friendly 10 - 40 meter end fed in the air and started chasing POTA operators (I didn't activate Red Top Mountain, I just 'hunted and pounced'). It was the first time in a very long time I had the chance to just sit down at the radio, spin the dial and look for contacts. I was reminded once again what a great radio this is. The SWR on the antenna was below 1.5:1 on 10, 20 and the SSB portions of 40 meters, so there was no need for the tuner. Ten watts got me as far away as Brazos, TX and northern Indiana, so no complaints there. It was just a fun couple of radio days. 

Picnic table portable. The radio is connected to the ParEndFedz long wire.
The near end of the antenna is hanging from the lantern hook next to the table,
and is resonant on 10, 20  & 40 meters

Home away from home. A Forest River R-Pod 192. Just big enough for two
humans and three dogs

Speaking of dogs, when you are a butthead at the campground
you get time in doggie jail. Don't worry, there's plenty
of warm, fluffy blankets in there

When camping, one must share surfaces. Dinner prep and ham radio
go together like peas and carrots

For me, camping is more than playing with radios. I'm a huge fan of using
classic camping gear like Coleman stoves. Nothing says 'camping' like 
hearing the roar of the stove burner on a frosty morning

Close-up of the back of the IC-705, showing the mod to the Windcamp Ark-705
cage to accept the Windcamp RC-1 antenna connector.
The RC-1 is a lousy radio stand/prop, but is actually an excellent external
antenna connector with a well thought-out ground connector. The RC-1 also
serves the important function of taking strain off of the radio's BNC connector

So, one camping trip down, another one coming up in January. Maybe, just maybe... snow?

W8BYH out