Thursday, December 10, 2015

The 2015 CQ WW CW Contest

Two weekends ago was the CQ WW CW contest.

Being a QRPer, I decided to enter the contest in the SOSB/20 QRP category using ONLY my Mountain Topper...along with a Vibroplex Brass Racer. I was a little skeptical on how the MTR would do, since I didn't connect the outboard MFJ CWF-2 filter. I have to say that in its STOCK form, the MTR did amazingly well. The MTR is quite selective, and the 500 Hz audio really was able to separate the adjacent signals in a big way. I worked basically everything that I could hear...and I heard a TON of DX. I even managed to work ZD8W (Ascension Island) and CR3OO (Madeira Island)...both off the coast of Africa, as well as OH0X (Aland Islands), and several Russian and Lithuanian stations.

I have entered SMALLER CW contests in the past, and even once entered the CQ WPX CW with an HW-7, but nothing as dedicated of an effort as the CQ WW.  It was a blast!  The amusing part is that the built-in Iambic A keyer, normally set at 16-18 WPM, sounded PAINFULLY SLOW in comparison to the high speed CW being transmitted from all reaches of the globe.  I turned the MTR up to about 25 WPM to stay somewhat in pace with the faster sending stations.

Before leaving for Manhattan earlier in the month, I replaced the 8 AA batteries in the pack, but only used it once or twice.  On 20m, I was at a full QRP gallon (5W) at the beginning of the weekend.  By Sunday night, after almost constant use, I was only down a few milliwatts....4.25W to be exact. The Mountain Topper absolutely SIPS power in comparison with the SR8T that I recently sold.

Most of the time, I use the MTR with a straight key for SKCC activities, but being in a contest a keying device if you plan on operating for any stretch of time.  You'd fatigue quite easily with anything else...and if the CW isn't sent perfectly, it sounds muddled and confusing at higher speeds.

Using a keyer (like my Brass Racer, or any other Iambic paddle) also opens up the other features of the MTR...such as DFE, or DIRECT FREQUENCY ENTRY mode.  You CAN QSY by the up and down arrows, but the tuning rate of the MTR can be quite slow if you are making large excursions across a band.  In DFE, you use the keyer to enter the last 4 digits of the frequency you are heading to.  Since I operate in the Assisted category, I watch the DX clusters from time to time.  I saw PJ2T in the Caribbean on the screen...they were running on DFE, entering 0395 takes you there instantly.  This is a GREAT feature added by KD1JV in the design of this rig.  Jumping around on 20 was a joy using this method!

I'm looking forward to the NEXT CW contest with this radio...

 UPDATE:  As of 12/10/2015, CQ has released the raw scores. and in the Assisted 20m SOSB QRP category, I placed 2nd Place US...and 1st Place 2nd Call Area.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The LNR Precision "Mountain Topper"...a Steve Weber MASTERPIECE

It has been several months since I have updated this blog...there has been so much going on, that I don't even know where to begin.

Was it the enormous INTERNATIONAL telecommunications project that I was superintendent of...when I connected the US and Canada across the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge via 9 ┬Ám fiber optic cable?  Was it meeting (and losing) the woman of my dreams?  Was it going to New Jersey for hyper-advanced cellular training to accelerate my career into another stratosphere?

Was it working on the antennas in the new World Trade Center?

Was it not only seeing KISS in July, but ALSO seeing Ace Frehley in Buffalo on September 21st??

It was ALL of these and so much more.  2015 has been, possibly, the best year of my life...and I continue to be richly blessed.

But back in the Spring of this year, I had been reading a QRP blog that mentioned that Steve Weber KD1JV was collaborating with LNR Precision, and making his venerable "Mountain Topper" transceiver available...FULLY ASSEMBLED...for the PALTRY sum of $250!

That was all of the convincing that I needed to want one.  For some time, I had been trying to get a hold of one of these, or even his ATS series rigs.  The only problem for ME would have been the SMD components.  I have only done surface mount once, and that was on a $27 Rockmite...I couldn't imaging an entire radio built utilizing these methods.  So when I saw that it was fully-assembled...nothing else needed to be said.

The older versions of the MTR were in kit form, as noted, but most were also only dual band rigs.  The LNR version is a tri-band radio, covering 40/30/20 5W output @ 12V.  This is a fairly hefty amount of power for a radio that is the size of a deck of poker cards.  It's weight is 4.4 ounces...when the antenna, key/paddles, power, and earphones are connected, it tends to slide around a little on my desk, but to be fair, this radio was never intended to be a "shack queen" like mine is.

Notable features of the tiny rig are three programmable memories, 1500 Hz adjustable RIT, Iambic-A keyer, digital readout that shows [rig status, battery voltage, frequency readout, and low battery warning], tight 500 Hz audio...among others.

The MTR can be used with a straight-key, as I have been doing with it during SKCC club activities, but with a straight-key, many of the radio's unique features can't be DFE, or Direct Frequency Entry.  There are up and down arrows on the front panel that allow the user to change frequency (full band, mind you...this isn't a VXO or a "rock-bound" QRP rig), but the rate by which the frequency changes can be frustratingly slow sometimes.  With a paddle, and DFE mode, you can key in the exact frequency you wish to QSY to.  It's a GREAT feature, for sure, since 50 KHz steps are too small when you need to go from 7.030 to 7.114 MHz.

Since selling my Alinco SR8T recently (I'm going to be getting another FT-817ND soon...can't wait to get back to the linear satellites!!!), the MTR has been my main radio in the shack, along with the HTX-10 that sits inside my Chippendale desk.  This hasn't hampered my operating in any way, since, even when I had the SR8T, MOST of my operating this year has been CW, and on 40 or 20...and at the 3W "Super Low" setting.  But I have had more fun using this radio than not.

The 500 Hz audio is fantastic, since it really helps to knock down adjacent noise, interference, and even QSOs close-by.  With the addition of an outboard filter (in my case the antique MFJ CWF-2) signals literally jump out of the noise.

There have been occasions that I am tempted to say that the MTR has a better RX than the FT-817ND no time in my ham past have I been able to hear the NCDXF's 14.100 MHz beacons...until the MTR.  For the past few nights, I have been copying the 20m signal from literally all over the world...something that I have ONLY done on their 28.200 MHz allocation.  This is incredible performance from such a tiny little radio.

Last night, I unplugged the straight-key, and plugged in my set of MFJ micro-paddles, courtesy of Keith WB2VUO, and then set the keyer speed to 25 WPM.  And then I hit 30m hunting for DX.  A few nights ago, I worked S57V in Slovenia after one call...I wanted to see what else I could accomplish.  Just last night, I worked another Slovenian, as well as HG3ITU, the special event station in Hungary that is commemorating the International Telecommunications Union's happenings in that country this year.  It took some work, as 30 wasn't great last night, but the rig has all of the ability to slug it out with the big boys.

(My Mountain Topper, at home in the shack)

For $250, it has been well worth say the least.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Case For CW

When I was licensed in 1988, you HAD to know CW.

Sure, it was only 5 WPM...but the barrier was there.  I had been studying from the Radio Shack/Gordon West WB6NOA "Enhanced Novice Class" book and cassette tapes in preparation for the big day.

The Novice could be administered by ANY General Class or above, so the test was given to me at the home of Harold Freund, KD2V...and Gene Collins, KA2IWJ (SK) was there to assist.

The theory was a snap.  I was over-prepared for the written.  I think that part only took me 5 minutes or so.

The CW was another story.

I started out relatively smoothly...but as I panicked and subsequently froze, I resorted to manually copying the "dits and dahs", and went back to decipher...not unlike the Ovaltine decoder ring days.

But, I still passed.

A few years went by...and CW was not something that I wanted to do.  I mean...SURE...I had passed, but it didn't seem like that much fun to me.

During this time, 73 Magazine always carried the ads for Ramsey Electronics, and every month I would see the ad that had the 1 watt CW transmitter.  At this time it was $24.95...HALF of what it costs today.

Not coming from money, this seemed like the ONLY way that I would get on the air.  I already had the receiver (Hammarlund HQ-170), so this was a tiny piece of the puzzle.

I bought the transmitter and the matching case...built them...but never got on the radio.  College and work soon got into the way.

After graduating from college, I was bitten by the radio bug again, and decided that it was time to finally put the combo on the air...or try as hard as I could, anyway.

This was 1995, a full 7 years after being licensed.

I installed a simple dipole for an antenna.  The coax was lousy (the stuff was BLUE, for God's sake!!!) and it wasn't very high, but the day I had ALL of the pieces seemingly in the right places, I called CQ...and nearly had a stroke when I heard my callsign return to me from OHIO.

The transmitter was a ONE WATT, 40 meter CW-only rig.

The old timers were telling me for months that it wouldn't work.  Not enough power.  But then again, these are the same guys that fire up 1500+ watt amps to shoot the breeze over a 10 mile path.

But it DID work.

I wasn't crazy about CW, though.  I had a cheap plastic key that I took from my high school electronics department as a souvenir on my last day of high school.  So, at the time, I got a Nye-Viking Speed-X.

A few Christmases later, my parents bought me a Vibroplex Original.

But I STILL looked forward to the day that I had a REAL radio.

In 1998, I bought an MFJ-9440...the SSB "travel radio".  This was my first SSB rig, and it was a fantastic performer.  12 watts with a built-in speech processor allowed me to work some really cool nets and some DX, although not as much as I do now.

I used this rig until 2004 when I bought a Ten-Tec Argonaut 505 on eBay.  This was my dream radio that I had seen in the old QSTs and CQs.  And I HAD one!  A complete station...microphone and everything.

I wasted no time in jumping into digital (PSK and RTTY) with this rig.

in 2007, I bought a Yaesu FT-817ND, and had a blast working satellites and meteor scatter, and even being able to HEAR moonbounce.  In fact, I was addicted to digital modes.

In this time frame, I worked VERY little CW.  I did it a few times on VO-52, and was shocked at how much my CW skill had deteriorated.  I used to be able to copy at 20/25 WPM, but at that point I was struggling with 10.

After my marriage, I sold all of my gear...AGAIN.  Thankfully the radio drought didn't last long. In December 2013, I chose an Alinco SR8T...possibly the most underrated transceiver on the market.  Can't beat the price, features, etc.

But recently, I have found myself working CW almost exclusively, be it from the pair of Chinese CW-only rigs that I built, or from the SR8T.

Why CW...and why hand-sent and ear-received CW?

Forget the licensing requirements of the past.  THAT ship has sailed.

Forget the OLD LOGIC that used to say, "CW makes it when no other mode will!-that notion has been eclipsed by a dozen or more modes, some with error-correction, that will still work when CW has long since proven useless.

Forget that most CW-only transceivers are a fraction of the cost of "typical" radios.  Some can be purchased with money found in your ash tray.

The allure of CW, and CW that isn't being sent and received by a digital suite such as fldigi or Ham Radio Disaster, is that you become an active participant in the QSO...moreso than if you were just using a microphone.  ANYONE can talk into a mic...if you don't believe this, just listen to 14.313 on ANY given day. You are part of the QSO...good sending and poor, spelling errors, and even emotion that is conveyed through the key/keyer.

With CW you need to listen...and concentrate...and follow along to a mode that's older than some American states.  Sometimes it's easy.  Sometimes, it's extraordinarily difficult, such as when an operator is using an ill-adjusted bug that is sending improperly spaced/timed CW. need to know how to order to keep a QSO going above 10 WPM pr so.  At 20'd better be thinking a few words ahead.

But the magic exists if CW interests you.  The thrill of hearing your call coming back to you...whether you're using a simple little rig or a full-tilt-boogie "big rig" is immeasurable.  Every time I hear the "4 dits-3 dits-4 dits" of HSH being returned to me over the air, it feels EXACTLY the same as when I made my first CW QSO as a Novice.

I think for ME personally...I am enjoying the challenge.  I am enjoying the reacquired skill of being able to copy in my head while doing other things around the house...such as dishes or laundry.  Are there times when I'm tired and the brain won't cooperate?  Sure.  Last night was no exception.  The W1AW 18 WPM bulletin was not making sense...but in all honesty, I was a bit distracted by a plate of pierogi and a dry martini.

On the Straight Key Century Club's Facebook page, you meet all kinds of folks that have chosen to forego the ease of a keyer...and use nothing more than a straight key (or bug).  I would prefer my Ten-Tec KR5 hands-down over my Nye-Viking Speed-X, but that's the thrill...we're doing CW the OLD OLD-FASHIONED way...just as most of the radio pioneers did in the very earliest days of radio, and even before when telegraphy was wire-based.

Many of the SKCC club members are "CW Only"...and "CW for 50 years"...and even "I don't even OWN a microphone".  That's certainly their prerogative.  I'm not tossing my voice gear anytime soon.  But, CW has gone from being this dreaded, horrible, boring a mode that is simply fun.  In its purest and simplest

Friday, December 19, 2014

The 2014 QRP ARCI Holiday Spirits Homebrew Sprint, And The Pixie

Last weekend was the QRP ARCI Holiday Spirits Sprint.  The last time I operated this 4-Hour mini contest was in 2009, so having recently built the Chinese Pixie, I was excited to enter the contest.

Since it IS a minimalist transceiver that's as WIDE as a barn door on receive, I wasn't expecting much.  Broadcast interference is still a little bit of an issue during the day, but on Sundays the local station plays ethnic Polish music.  Think POLKA!  It was pretty cool hearing CW activity as well as Polka music.  I  was pretty shocked that I was able to still copy the CW as well as hear the music.  My skills, even after 26 years, are still improving!

Overall, I only made 2 QSOs...K2CYS and W3TS.  With only 500 mW and a single frequency to operate with, I wasn't going to dominate sharing was necessary.  However, I DID qualify for a x10 multiplier as well as a bonus 10,000 points for homebrew transceiver and portable operation WITH battery.

The Pixie certainly isn't a contest radio, but for smaller sprints and contests, it CAN work.

I just received my second Pixie in the mail from China yesterday and will be adding 2 crystals for the Straight Key Century Club's 7.114 and 7.120 MHz meeting places.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Chinese Pixie 2...Installed To The Case

It took quite a bit of metalwork to make the Chinese Pixie 2 fit into the Newman's Own box...but that was my project last Thursday while in the office supervising a T1 cutover from Verizon.  Our heavy equipment room at our shop is on the other side of the warehouse, so I could play radio and still keep an eye on making sure the new T was set for 4 digit, "Wink Start", B8ZS was enabled, and all the other good stuff that makes me insane.

I have been having fun playing with the little Pixie.  I never imagined that a radio this crude and simplistic could ACTUALLY be capable of real communications.  Through the years, I had read QRP articles that detailed how OTHERS had done it, but I passed it off as a novelty.

And this radio is indeed a novelty.

You actually have to WORK to make a QSO.  There are no filters to kick true ability to QSY...and not enough power to call CQ and be heard regularly.

But there are the rare moments when I DO call CQ with it and am rewarded with a contact.

Since completion, I have made 3 QSOs with the tiny rig...which is interesting, since when I was using the Chinese "Super Rockmite", I only made 4...and that was over the course of 6 months.  (Marathon training, work demands, and life sometimes get in the way.....)

Most of the time, I simply listen to the signals that the radio receives.  I have listened to QSOs...I have heard some DX calling CQ (seriously...actual DX!)...and even listen to W1AW working stations.  The audio is so wide that I can hear JT65 on 7.076 from time to time.  This is not the norm, thankfully.

The BCI overload is a problem that is a force to be reckoned with.  Yesterday, as I was all set to make a few QSOs with my NVIS-style 40m antenna, WXRL...the local COUNTRY music station was just blowing over the top of the radio.

Now...I have to be honest...I HATE COUNTRY MUSIC.  It serves the lowest common denominator in society.  If it were classical or jazz, I probably would be more accepting of this interference, but when it's COUNTRY...that is when I turn off the radio and find something else to do...or use the SR8T.

Thankfully, after playing around more with grounding Pin 7 of the LM386 and some other shielding techniques, I was FINALLY able to use the Pixie last night.  After a few CQs, I worked N1PVP just outside of Boston.  Decent QSO, although he was using a "Bug"...not my first choice in CW keys.  When ill-adjusted, they are very difficult to copy...even with my 26+ years of CW experience.  (I HAVE a Vibroplex Original Presentation, but still prefer my Ten-Tec KR5 single-lever paddle)

I have estimated the power of the Pixie to be around the neighborhood of 500 mW.  I am able to light the 1/2 watt LED on my LDG tuner, so it is reasonable to assume that this is the power output.

And still...I am able to see THIS on the Reverse Beacon Network:

I ordered another one of these $7.59 wonders, as well as the K1EL keyer kit.  The K1EL keyer can not only be set in Beacon Mode, but it can also do QRSS.  With lower voltage into the Pixie to protect the transistors, it should be interesting to see who can receive the milliwatts this will be transmitting.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Chinese Pixie 2 QRP Transceiver-An Asian Twist On An Old Favorite

Many hams have read about, heard about, or even used/owned a micro transceiver that is the essence of simplicity itself.

The radio I'm referring to is the much loved AND reviled, and misunderstood "Pixie 2".

The origins of this radio are familiar to the ardent QRP enthusiast.  The original radio, called the "Foxx", was invented in 1982 by George Burt, GM3OXX.  It was a simple, 5 transistor rig, that produced a WHOPPING 2.5 watts of RF on 40 or 80 meters.

Soon after, Oleg Borodin, RV3GM slimmed it down by eliminating one of the amplifier transistors and a few other "non-essential" components.  This, of course, became the "Micro-80" transceiver.  This radio is the closest cousin to the Pixie, in that, the oscillator stage appears to be quite similar.

Finally, WA6BOY's version of the radio eliminated the transistor audio amplifier stage and used an LM386 I.C.  This is the version that we still "use" today...almost 20 years later.

The Pixie 2 can be breadboarded out of junk box parts, or acquired all at once from a few vendors that sell the Pixie 2 in kit form.

The first, and most widely known is the version available from Halted Specialties, or simply HSC.

I have built three of these kits, and NONE of them worked very well...or at all.  The last attempt was a 30m version.  The quality of the circuit boards is atrocious at best, and for the beginner, this kit is better left alone.  To call it garbage would be too much of a compliment.

Next is the QRPme kit that Rex Harper sells, the Lil Squall.

I have known a few people that have bought this version, and they really like it.  The quality of the kit is outstanding, and having a custom made enclosure included is top notch.  Rex stands behind his products as well.  This Pixie has the unique advantage over the other kits, in that changing bands is a simple as changing the daughter-board with the appropriate coil settings for the band.  Nice touch!

Next is the RadioKit Pixie, available on eBay from Yiannis Kontarinis in Athens, Greece.
I have no information on this radio, so I can't really say much about it, other than its cosmetics.  It's not as attractive as the Lil Squall, but it is still pretty sharp looking.

And FINALLY...the version available from DOZENS (and I truly mean DOZENS) of sellers in China...

These kits are called the "Shoes" in China, although I believe that has something to do with how the word "Pixie" is translated back into English.  It is the same two-transistor circuit, with LM386 for audio amplification.

However, there are a few nice changes with this particular version.  Firstly, this radio has a 47K variable resistor that allows for a few KHz of tuning around the crystal frequency.  While it was also something that is featured on the Chinese "Super-Rockmite"...and allowed the TRANSMITTER to also QSY a bit, this one is strictly for the RX only.  Next is the rather beefy BNC jack.  This is a DRAMATIC improvement to the typical RCA jack that is used for the RF connections on many Pixies.  And favorite thing about this radio is the PRICE!  I bought mine direct from a Chinese seller on eBay (although you can also purchase them directly through China's domestic shopping site, for $7.59...and it was shipped FREE from China via China Post.  And there are many sellers that sell them for as low as $5.50 with free shipping. 

The true reason that I bought this Pixie was due to an unfortunate accident that I had with my Super Rockmite, which I have currently written about before.  I was connecting my Ten-Tec KR5 keyer to it, but after doing so, the RM went into a wild self-oscillation that quickly destroyed the 8W behemoth.  Being so close to Christmas, I wasn't able to afford to replace it.  That's when I saw the Pixie.

The radio was ordered on November 7th, and shipped out the next day.  The worst part of shipping from China is the wait times in Customs.  But ANY international commerce is rife with delays like these, and having purchased many things directly from the PRC, I was familiar with the wait time.  The radio arrived in Buffalo NY 11 days later, as expected.  

The kits all come in padded envelopes, and when opened....this is precisely what you get:

And that is LITERALLY all you get. 

NO instructions.  Nothing but your circuit board and a small baggie filled with parts.

In order to make this work, you have to do a little legwork.  That's why ALL of the schematics and parts lists are on the sellers' pages...and they ALL do it this way.  I like to think that it keeps the costs down by not having to photocopy instructions over and over and over again.

Back on the seller's page, you find THIS:

Thankfully, the English translation is on the parts list.  And with this information, AND the fact that the circuit board is marked with component locations (R1, D2, etc), it's not too difficult to get the components roughed into place and ready for soldering.

In addition to the parts as listed, I also ordered a 7.030 MHz crystal from Rich at ESS.  For $2.95, he sent the appropriate crystal for this rig.  For some odd reason, almost 100% of the CW rigs that you buy from China come equipped with crystals for 7.023 MHz.  As a General Class ham, I can't use 7.023, and I don't think I would want to...since QRPers hang out around 7.030-7.040 anyway.

The rig goes together fairly quickly, however, it must be noted, as it is on a recent YouTube video describing this rig, the kit comes with A LOT of extra you DO NOT NEED.  I don't understand the reason for this...perhaps the person putting the kit together ran out of needed values, and added a bunch of stuff as a "good faith" gesture...but this just adds to the confusion.  As in the video, I too, had to add my own resistors...a 1K and the 33K to be precise.  They did not come with the kit.  THANK GOD Radio Shack still sells some components.  In the meantime, while not wanting to wait until I got to RS to buy some 33K resistors, I simply paralleled 3 of them at 100K ohms per...and it worked just fine. 

The solder pads underneath the board (and it's a through-plated board...nice touch) are tiny, so a small iron is a necessity.  I have an 18-watt iron that has a tiny pencil tip that saved the day.  You WILL need a larger iron for soldering the coaxial power jack, both of the 3.5 mm jacks (key and audio out) and the BNC male RF jack.

Total build time was just under and hour.  Your mileage may vary, depending on your comfort with a soldering iron and how much light you have in your work area.  I say this because some of the components are TINY...and the markings can be difficult to read.  At 42, I am beginning to wonder if I may be needing bifocals soon.

After nipping off the soldered leads under the board, I connected my antenna and earbuds (iPod style work QUITE well in this little radio) and then the power...and was delighted to hear 40m spring to life.

The audio is TYPICAL Pixie's as wide as a barn door...but the sensitivity is actually very good for what this little toy is.  If you've ever used an old Heathkit HW-7 (with the 40673 for the detector), it's comparable...except there are NO microphonics.  

When using this, or ANY Pixie that is using the LM386, a few things must be adhered to for the best possible performance.  For starters, using a power supply is not recommended, as you WILL HEAR HUM.  Write it in stone.  Battery power is where it's at with this rig.  And many like the idea of being able to use a 9V battery due to size, but the 9V doesn't supply enough current for the Pixie to both transmit enough power AS WELL AS not current starve the LM386.  Many hams complain of the buzz or motorboating sound when attempting to debug a misbehaving Pixie...and sometimes it's BECAUSE of not enough voltage/current.  Secondly, a good antenna is essential.  I was able to hear QSOs in progress and even be reported on the Reverse Beacon Network while connected to my Opek HVT-600 portable antenna, but with a proper antenna such as a dipole or an end-fed (such at the antenna I sue at home), the audio really wakes up.  

At my home QTH, I am 9.5 miles away from WGR550 AM's transmitting tower.  I was able to hear it when I had my HW-7, and occasionally I can hear it through the Pixie.  Some cures for it are to ground Pin 7 of the LM386 via a 10 uF capacitor.  I have done this and it works very well to mitigate the BCI interference.

On Monday night, December 1st, I made a few CQ's and was answered by N2BHA in Rome, NY.  We had a nice QSO, while I tried to contain my enthusiasm.  Sure, it's only 165 miles from point-to-point, but the fact still remains that it IS a radio capable of REAL communications.  I know that I will be installing this into a typical "Altoids" style box (although mine is a blue Newman's Own box...I like to be different) and also will be adding a a K1EL K-16BAT kit so I can use an Iambic A single-lever paddle.

In summation, this is a nice, BASIC, NO-FRILLS radio.



73/72 de KB2HSH

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The COMPLETED Chinese Super Rockmite/Octopus Clone

In the photo above, you see the finished result of all of the pieces and together just right.

I originally went looking for Dupli-Color DE1618 to give it the "Heathkit" look, but settled on Ford Cayman green.  It resembles the Heathkit green, with a little extra gold sparkle to it.  The case accepted the primer and paint very well, and it has a smooth finish...much better than the raw aluminum case.

I even painted the MFJ CWF-2's box to match it.  They are roughly the same they look pretty neat sitting next to each other.

Also, I re-crystalled the board, as stated before, for 7.030.  There is MUCH MUCH more activity on 7.030 than 7.023 MHz.  Just yesterday alone I made 5 QSOs at random times during the afternoon/evening.

So...all together, I spent $40 for the radio...$22 for the case, $11 for the crystals (from, and $7 for the paint.  Grand total: $80.

Next step is to build the "CT1IAO" portable single-lever paddle to use the internal keyer:

Next step...take 2:  Testing it portable with the Opek HVT-600 antenna.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Chinese "Super Rockmite" Clone

Recently, I was perusing my Twitter feed, which I have to admit I haven't been keeping up with.  Recently, my Twitter friend Matt, W2MDW posted a link to an eBay page showing the "Super Rockmite Clone" radios.

These radios are available in either kit form OR fully assembled...but that's not what makes them unique.  I have written before about the Chinese versions of Dave Benson's (now Rex Harper's) "Rockmite", known in the PRC as the "Octopus".  The Octopus is LOOSELY based upon the Rockmite...and the Super RM clone is even more of a departure.

I bought one of these radios for portable operation with an Opek HVT-600 antenna while at the YL's house.

The BEST part of this radio is the WHOPPING amount of power that it emits.  The CRK-10 was a stout little performer with its 3 Watts....but the Super RM Clone is an EIGHT WATT RADIO (@12V DC).  

YES....8 Watts.

There are some interesting upgrades with this particular radio, as well.  There is a DB9 port on it for what the website calls "PC Keying", but the software is difficult to find, as is the cable required to make it happen.  After quite a bit of navigating around ENDLESS Chinese websites, I was able to find the software, schematics, and instruction manuals for the rig.  

The Super RM is far from perfect, mind you.  The audio is anything but pleasant to listen to IF you are using regular (a.k.a. CHEAP earbuds....or "walkman" style headphones).  It is SO LOUD and SO HARSH as to not be comfortable for very long.  And, without a little tweaking of the sidetone pitch (via button 1 and 2 on the top of the circuit board), your keying sounds will drive you CRAZY.

The solution was fairly simple for me, since it had worked with the MINT CONDITION Heathkit HW-7 that my ex-wife bought for me last year:  1945 vintage Telephonics Corporation TH37 headphones and an OLD MFJ-CWF2 filter.

The old heapdhones in conjunction with the filter (when needed) really take the harshness out of the audio.  Your mileage may vary, but it is an ABSOLUTE improvement for me.

There ARE a few significant downsides to this radio in the "assembled" state:  ALL of these radios are coming from China with crystals for 7.023 MHz.  Extra Class license holders are the only ones allowed to use this frequency.  ALSO...the Super RM Clone uses THREE of the these crystals.  Two are for the filter, and the third is for the oscillator.  But, affordable crystals can be had by contacting Rex Harper via  

I QSY'd mine to 7.030...the QRP "watering hole" for 40m CW.

And there is no case with the radio.  However, the matching aluminum box can be obtained by a quick trip to eBay.  

All in all, I paid $40 for the assembled kit, and another $15 for the matching aluminum box.  And when you purchase from the MANY eBay sellers, shipping from China is USUALLY free...another perk.  Arrival to the US is typically 7-15 days....mine came in 11.

More of these rigs can be seen on China's domestic shopping website, Taobao.

Make sure you are using a GOOD web browser, such as Google Chrome, so you can have the page translated into "Chinglish".

As I make changes and improvements to the radio, I will be posting them here.


Monday, November 26, 2012

The Chinese Rockmite: Meet the CRK-10

As with nearly everything in our modern lives, undoubtedly it's made in China.  As the US shifts from manufacturing to "service" and high-tech, many of the items we use on a daily basis are increasingly "Made in China".

Along with this concept, consider that the Chinese are masterful at duplication.  They can take an "already existing" product, and make a copy of it...typically cheaper and in greater numbers.  Quality is suspect at times, at others, sometimes the quality is BETTER.

This is the China Radio Kits "CRK-10".  It is a version of the Rockmite known in China as the "Octopus" (unknown as to WHY....but...OK).  It is available as a kit, or factory-assembled.  This rig was created by Bu Xianzhi, BD4RG.

The following is a chart that shows the comparison between the Small Wonder Labs "Rockmite" and the CRK-10:

ModelCRkits CRK-10SmallWonderLabs RockMite
Price(Board and case unassembled) $52,  $62 assembled$29 unassembled
CaseCase includedMity Box (sold separately) $25
Frequency7003, 7010,7020,7025, 70303560, 3579, 7015,7030,7040,10106,14060
Power3W (2SC1162)0.5W (2N2222 Metal Can)
MCU functionSPD / CQ MSG / Bug not be replaced (12F629 SOP)Yes SPD only retrofit PIC (12C508A DIP) Jackson Harbor Press
MCU message/ QRP can be addedNo
Automatic identificationYesNo
IF CrystalTwoOne
Adjust RF GAINNoYes
Switching sidebandRemodeling required: RIT cancellerswitch short press
Fabrication time1 hour (semi-finished board)3-4 hours
Outside wiring boardNoneYes 

The differences are subtle.  However, the biggest difference is in the power output capability.  The CRK-10 emits a WHOPPING 3 watts.  That's nearly "full-tilt" at QRP levels.  The additional power afforded by the 2SC1162 almost guarantees a QSO with a decent antenna.  Compared with the Rockmite under the same conditions (antenna, atmospherics, etc), this is at least a 2 S-unit difference!

Also, keep in mind that with the Rockmite, the basic kit is $29...the connector kit (optional, but still handy as hell to have) is $16.  Then, for the professional look and finish, the American Morse "Mity Box" is another $25. still have to build it.  Total cost: $70.  The CRK-10...factory assembled and SHIPPED from Pudong New District, Shanghai, Peoples Republic of China...$70.  This is a NO BRAINER.

That's why I ordered one...fully assembled, for 7.030 MHz.

Adam Rong is very responsive to emails and requests via email for help in assembly, modification, and troubleshooting are answered promptly either directly, or via his Yahoo Group (  I have spoken with him on numerous occasions, and was quite impressed with his dedication to his products and his development of future kits.  Recently, Adam discontinued his KN-Q10B kit.  This was a 5-band (80/40/20/15/10), CW/SSB kit (also available assembled) that he closed out at $235.  THAT IS INSANELY AFFORDABLE.  I regretfully missed out on this chance to get one at this low price.  I have been dying to get back on HF since I had to sell my Yaesu FT-817ND.  But, after an email to Adam, he assured me that there are new multiband kits being developed.  By the time my tax return comes back, I will most definitely be adding one (factory assembled, of course) to my shack.

I have always been good at predicting the future.  It's an ability that I've had since I was a child.  I was spot-on when I had that "feeling" (it used to feel like a seizure when I was young) and told my mother to play the lottery in 1988.  She won $35,000 that night.  I predicted with alarming accuracy in 1985 that "someday, music won't be on 8-track or cassettes, or even record in the future."  I added, "in the future, buying an album will be like buying an item the size of a postage stamp.  Plug it in...there's the music".  At 13, I hypothesized that digital music was ahead for the world.  Again...I was correct.

I said last year in a conversation at a ham club satellite demo that I presented along with Keith WB2VUO, that once the Chinese enter the HF market (in addition to the LOW COST VHF/UHF transceivers), rigs that are capable of 10-50 watts and have decent HF coverage AND be priced in the sub-$200 range would be around the corner.  I was correct.  Between China Radio Kits and YouKits, these are only 2 companies in an ever-increasing Chinese production economy.

Currently, Small Wonder Labs is no longer in business.  However, Rex Harper from QRPme has undertaken the task of reproducing the Rockmite...with some subtle changes.  Namely...NO MORE SURFACE MOUNT!!!  Rex's version is all standard and typical components.  But, it's still the K1SWL design at heart.