Friday, April 13, 2018
My Latest Rig...the uBITX
On February 6th, I placed an order on hfsignals.com for a radio that is quite literally standing conventional wisdom about Amateur Radio onto its head: the Indian-made, multiband, SSB/CW uBITX transceiver.
Ashar Farhan, along with Dan Tayloe, Arv Evans, and Jim Kortge, designed and developed the ORIGINAL BITX40/20 radios more than 11 years ago. The older units are significantly different from the newer versions made in India...namely, with the addition of more band coverage, more crystal filtering, and most importantly, rather than polyvaricon tuning, an Arduino clone handles the tuning. In fact, calling this radio a software defined radio is accurate.
During the approximately 2 months for the radio to arrive, I ordered a printed case for the rig from Dave Schmidt at Wolfland Computers and Hobby (wolfland.net). Dave prints the cases in several styles and SEVERAL color combinations...he even prints your call on the front of the box, if desired.
Last week it arrived. And I couldn't wait to begin the assembly process.
These radios are already hand assembled by Ashar's team in Hyderabad, India, but what YOU...or I as the case was, had/have to do is the final mounting in a box, and then add connectors and controls.
If you purchase a box that already has cut-outs for the Raduino screen and the potentiomer and encoder, and power and RF on the rear, the assembly goes MUCH faster. I already had the box on hand, so the assembly time was literally trimmed by hours, if not days.
The 3.5mm jacks sent with the radio are, in all honesty, TERRIBLE. They are the style that is meant for direct mounting to a circuit board. If you have experience soldering, this is a minor inconvenience, but I can see this being a problem for someone with less experience. Basically, the pins to solder the wires from the audio and Raduino connectors are REALLY small. If you have a decent junkbox, substituting a STANDARD jack, as I did for the CW key jack, is OK.
The first problem encountered in the instructions of hfsignals.com, was that the CW jack directions are wrong. Referring to ubitx.net solved any of these minor hiccups. One thing I did to make assembly a bit easier for myself, was to set the jack for straight keying. There are a couple of reasons for this...mainly simplicity, as it's only 2 wires necessary...and...that I prefer external keyers such as my 43-year old TenTec KR5 single-lever paddle.
After setting it up and doing some initial testing, there is a SIGNIFICANT glitch in the software that comes installed onto the Raduino: CW keying is sporadic and pretty poor. Ian Lee, KD8CEC's EXCELLENT software is the "fix du jour". Not only does Ian's software correct the CW glitch, it adds 160m to the rig, adds full CAT control (and WSJT-x can be used natively), adds RIT, adds IF Shift, adds Dual VFO, adds memories, and adds the ability to use a Memory Manager...all software that he himself writes. My rig has version 1.06 on it, but 1.07 is out at the time this is being written. Simply put, it's NECESSARY software to make the uBITX into a radio that can compete with the Big Three's entry level rigs. Ian Lee's software can be found on his website: http://www.hamskey.com/2018/02/cat-support-ubitx-firmware-cec-version.html
As I am writing this, I have already checked into the Hit and Bounce Slow CW Traffic net on 7112, ECARS on 7255, and listened to WWV on 10 MHz.
The instructions for setting up the receive are easy, but you will need another radio to make it simple. Aligning the RX with WWV or with a laptop that has digital software on it so that you can utilize an FT8 stream compared to another rig is how I did it. It's a tad confusing, but, persistence pays off.
My particular radio had an issue where my sidebands were reversed, but, after reading Ian Lee's blog about how to overcome this, made it simple. You literally have to change the clock frequency of the Raduino to correlate with correct sounding audio. Again, having another rig nearby helps, and is almost required.
The Raduino is a clone...a VERY cheap clone. One MAJOR problem developed with mine, in that, I can no longer connect to the PC for setting up memories, or adjustments. Luckily, EVERYTHING can be done via the Calibration menu...so I'm not too worried. I have a back-up of this configuration...so I'm not too upset about the glitch. If it REALLY bothers me, I'll simply purchase another uBITX for parts. It's a little disappointing, since I wanted to use this rig with the digital modes.
Ashar included a small PTT switch and a small electret microphone element, so that a BASIC microphone with push-to-talk can be built. My mic is a lash-up that I soldered together before work this week...it sounds a bit distorted, so for now until I can build/buy/steal a suitable replacement, I have been doing 100% CW. The 10-12 watts really gives the uBITX a HUGE advantage over my FT-817ND (double the power on the low bands).
For $109 + $10 for DHL Shipping from India, along with a $30 case from Wolfland, it's a HELL of a bargain. There is NOWHERE else on the PLANET that you can buy a radio that's NOT Chinese (these are assembled by women in India, which I think is tremendously cool...women have a FAR BETTER attention to detail than men do!), has the ability to be loaded with FREE software, gives you 160-10, including 60m (with version 1.06) at 12W from 160-40, and 3-6W from 30-10. The last time I paid around $100 for a transceiver, I bought an MFJ Cub, which was an utter disappointment to say the least.
For just under $150 for EVERYTHING, I have a basic rig that is cheap enough to be almost disposable, but has enough features to be usable.