lab599 Discovery TX-500: Hiking into Pisgah National Forest for a little field radio fun

Yesterday, I hit the field again with the lab599 TX-500 Discovery. This time, I wanted to give the radio a proper shake-out by hiking to my location with the entire station in my pack.

This TX-500 transceiver is on loan, so I haven’t built a custom field kit for it like I have with my other radios. To be on the safe side, I packed the rig and all of its accessories in my Red Oxx C-Ruck pack.

The C-Ruck is loaded with three antennas, two LiFePo batteries, DC distribution panels, extra adapters/connectors, and essentially everything I need to handle pretty much any field situation. I take it on every field activation when I can afford the space in my car/truck because it’s so complete and stocked, it’s like a mini shack in a bag complete with tools I might need in the field.

This radio bag was total overkill for a quick day hike into Pisgah National Forest and I did remove a few heavy items like a larger battery, my Wolf River Coils TIA vertical, and other extra accessories. But at the end of the day, my four-legged hiking partner (Hazel) and I both agreed that I would kick myself if I arrived on-site and realized I was short, say, one PL-259 to BNC connector.

Turns out, the C-Ruck was just what the doctor ordered. The TX-500 is so compact, it fit in the C-Ruck’s top flap pocket that holds my logging notepad. I used that top flap to strap down my folding three legged stool for the hike.

The best part was the C-Ruck made for a perfect field table! The front pocket of the pack (which contains supplies like a first aid kit, emergency tarp/sleeping back, protein bars, etc.) propped the TX-500 in place.

After finding a nice spot off-trail, I set up my EFT Trail-Friendly end fed antenna in short order, plugged it into the TX-500, plugged in my 6 aH Bioenno LiFePo battery, the TX-500 Speaker/Mic (which conveniently clipped o the C-Ruck top flap), and finally my homebrew CW key cable.

Since I had no mobile Internet service at this site–no surprise–I started the activation in CW which gave me the best opportunity to be auto-spotted by the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) and for CW hunters to find me on the announced frequency via the POTA site.

I started calling CQ and was instantly rewarded with a string of contacts on 40 meters.

After working that small pile of hunters, I moved up to the 20 meter band, started calling CQ, and made this short video:

Shortly after making this video, I heard thunder nearby and had to pack up. I’d hoped to work a few stations on 20M in CW, then switch over to SSB and work more. I’m willing to tempt fate when it’s just rain, but I don’t play with lightening.

All in all, It was a very pleasant–although short–activation. Hazel and I really enjoyed the hike. Frankly both of us love any excuse to hit the trails or parks.

Hazel was more interested in squirrels than DX.

I’m finding that the TX-500 is a very sturdy and capable field radio with fantastic ergonomics.

This morning, I pulled out the scales and found that the radio, speaker/mic, and power cable all weigh in at 1 pound 9 ounces. That’s a lightweight kit by any standard.

Easy on batteries

Also, the TX-500 only seems to need about 110-120 milliamps of current drain in receive. That’s an impressive number for sure–right there with the benchmark Elecraft KX2. I’m pretty sure I could operate for hours with only my 6 aH LiFePo battery pack.

More to come

I still have the TX-500 for a week and hope to continue taking it to the field. I had planned to go out again today, but the weather forecast is dismal. Instead, I’ll chase some parks here in the shack!

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5 thoughts on “lab599 Discovery TX-500: Hiking into Pisgah National Forest for a little field radio fun

  1. Stephan

    Thanks again for your interesting review!
    This HF transceiver is probably the most durable one on the market, maybe even better protected than the FT-817/818. If one lets it drop and the display gets hit, well then you’re probably out of luck, but which other transceiver would survive that?
    Apart of the output power at low voltage, I would also be interested about your experience withe the SSB mode.
    It would be really cool, if Lab599 would be able to add a voice memory to a future firmware, similar like the CW memory keying. This is a feature where the KX2 and the IC-705 shines.

  2. Mike N7MSD

    Awesome review, thank you!! Especially amazed at that receive current, they weren’t exaggerating! Also, your photos show that display is indeed easy to read in daylight; does it have a backlight?

    My other questions: I repeatedly see a lot of S/POTA guys talking about how their radios (especially their displays) get banged up bumping around in the back pack, and that the hard core guys have dismissed the IC-705 a long time ago for that reason (giant touch screen). My question: how durable is the screen, buttons, etc on this radio? Can it handle getting bumped around? Would you invest in just a screen protector or something that covers the whole front?

    Thanks again!

    1. Thomas Post author

      Hi Mike,

      Thank you.

      Yes, the display is easy to read in full sunlight. Honestly, for field work? LCD displays like this and that of the KX3/KX2 are the way to go. And, yes, the display has an effective backlight.

      Regarding getting bumped around in a backpack: I think this is where the TX-500 really shines. It feels incredible durable. The buttons, knobs and even the encoder are very secure and are highly unlikely to be affected by being bumped around in a pack. As with any radio, the only vulnerable spot might be the screen cover–it could get scratched if the radio is really mis-treated. You can’t easily tell, but the TX-500 actually has side protection extensions. If you were to drop it on a flat surface, like a table. the encoder, display, knobs and buttons are all protected.The extensions are hard to see in photos because the radio profile is so slim.



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